While “residual functional capacity” sounds like a very technical term, it actually means something quite simple. A disability applicant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) is an assessment of what kind of work the applicant is capable of doing and what the applicant is too limited to do.
When considering the effects of an applicant’s disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has to know whether the applicant can work and if so what kind of work the applicant is able to do. In order to learn more about what a disability applicant’s capabilities are, the disability claims examiner evaluating the applicant’s case will study the applicant’s RFC.
Evaluating limitations and restrictions for RFC
The disability claims examiner will first determine what level of work the applicant is capable of performing. Then he or she will evaluate what restrictions limit the jobs and activities the applicant can perform. In making these determinations, the disability claims examiner relies on the applicant’s medical record and opinions from the applicant’s doctors about the applicant’s abilities and restrictions.
RFC work levels
The RFC determination examines what kind of physical work the applicant can perform and is divided into five categories: sedentary work, light work, medium work, heavy work, and very heavy work.
- Sedentary work
Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally carrying or lifting items such as docket files, ledgers, and small tools. While a sedentary job is usually one that mostly involves sitting, some walking and standing is often necessary to carry out sedentary job duties.
- Light work
Light work involves lifting 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. It also means that you can stand and walk for up to six hours in an eight hour day.
- Medium work
Medium work involves standing and walking for up to six hours in an eight hour day. It also means that the applicant can lift 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally.
- Heavy work
Heavy work involves lifting up to 100 pounds at a time, and requires that the applicant can frequently lift or carry up to 50 pounds.
- Very heavy work
Very heavy work means the applicant can lift objects that weigh more than 100 pounds, and can frequently lift or carry objects that weigh 50 pounds or more.
If an applicant can perform any level of work above the sedentary work level, it is implied that he or she can also perform lower levels of work. For example, if an applicant can perform medium work, he or she can also perform light or sedentary work.
While physical abilities are a major component of the RFC, the SSA will also consider other non-physical limitations in this determination including not being able to bend over, not being able to use your fingers, or being unable to remember commands or instructions.
How the RFC is used
Once the disability claims examiner determines an applicant’s RFC, the examiner will first determine whether the applicant is capable of performing work he or she has done in the past. The examiner will consider multiple aspects about the applicant’s case including the applicant’s work history, any mental or emotional problems that the applicant struggles with, and the applicant’s work restrictions.
The disability claims examiner will determine whether the applicant is able to return to his or her old job. If the examiner determines that the applicant cannot return to this work, he or she will decide whether the applicant can perform any other type of work. This determination plays a large role in whether the SSA decides that an applicant is disabled and eligible for disability benefits.
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