“Under the sequential evaluation process for evaluating disability, if it is determined that an individual is not engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA) and has one more severe medically determinable impairment(s) which do not meet or equal the Listing of Impairments but prevent him or her from performing past relevant work, evaluation of the individual’s capability to do other work becomes necessary”
-SSR 83-10: TITLES II AND XVI: DETERMINING CAPABILITY TO DO OTHER WORK — THE MEDICAL-VOCATIONAL RULES OF APPENDIX 2
An individual’s capability and capacity to do other work depends on numerous “vocational factors” that the SSA takes into consideration, including Residual Function Capacity, age, education, and prior work experience. These considerations give the SSA an idea of the type of work you can do (if any). The types of work that can be done “in the national economy” can be classified several ways. One of the ways in which a type of work is classified is by what is called an “exertional level”. The exertional level of a job is defined as “the extent of a specific job’s requirements in the primary strength activities of sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling”—that is, how physically demanding a job is given the frequency of exertion needed to complete that job.
This classification of exertion requirements ranges from “sedentary”, “light”, and “medium”. While there are also “heavy” and “very heavy” work classifications, we will only cover the levels of sedentary, light, and medium work.
According to Code of Federal Regulations § 404.1567, the physical exertion scale is as follows:
- Sedentary work
- lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time
- occasionally lifting or carrying articles like “docket files, ledgers, and small tools”
- involves sitting, although “a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties”
- Light work
- lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time
- frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds.
- requires a “good deal of walking or standing”
- involves sitting most of the time with “some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls”
- if someone can do light work, it is also determined that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time
- Medium work
- lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time
- frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds
- If someone can do medium work, it is also determined that he or she can also do sedentary and light work
Note the use of “occasionally” and “frequently”—in these cases, “occasionally” means occurring from “very little up to one-third of the time”, while “frequently” means occurring from “one-third to two-thirds of the time”.
In conjunction to exertional levels, work can also be classified in terms of skill level, which pertains to the skill requirements and abilities needed to learn and perform the specified tasks of a specified job.
According to Code of Federal Regulations § 404.1568, the skill requirements scale is as follows:
- Unskilled work
- needs little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time
- may or may not require considerable strength
- can usually learn to do the job in 30 days, with little specific vocational preparation and judgment
- does not gain work skills by doing unskilled jobs
- Semi-skilled work
- need some skills but does not require doing more complex work duties
- may require alertness and ability to pay close attention to processes and tasks
- less complex than skilled work, but more complex than unskilled work
- coordination and dexterity may be necessary
- Skilled work
- requires judgment to obtain the proper form, quality, or quantity of production
- may require laying out work, estimating quality, determining the suitability and needed quantities of materials
- may require making precise measurements, reading blueprints or other specifications
- may require making necessary computations or mechanical adjustments to control or regulate the work
- may require dealing with people, facts, or figures or abstract ideas at a high level of complexity