The Importance of “Positioning” When it Comes to a Social Security Disability Claim

It might not seem as though it’s an important distinction to make, but when it comes time to pursuing a Social Security disability claim or appeal, the difference between one’s ability to sit for a length of time versus recline or lie down can turn a case on a dime: result in an unfavorable decision in what would otherwise be deemed a favorable decision.   These are the types of subtle distinctions that experienced Social Security disability lawyers should go over with their clients during the course of filling out the application materials so as to ensure that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a clear sense of their functional abilities.  In order to prove entitlement to Social Security disability benefits, it is necessary to prove that one either meets or equals a medical listing of impairment or, in the alternative, remains totally disabled from all forms of gainful employment: assuming one has reached the age of 50, issues such as age, education and experience become more significant factors such that application of Social Security’s Grid rules become important.   For individuals who are under the age of 50, however, the issue of whether one is capable of returning to another job typically revolves around one’s ability to undertake sedentary work.  20 C.F.R. Section 404.1567 defines sedentary work as that involving:

[L]ifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.

The sitting requirements associated with sedentary employment is further defined by Social Security Ruling 96-9P as follows:

Although a sedentary job is defined as one that involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met. “Occasionally” means occurring from very little up to one- third of the time, and would generally total no more than about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday. Sitting would generally total about 6 hours of an 8-hour workday.

What is important to understand, however, is that sitting differs from reclining, which differs from lying down during the day.  Many times, when speaking with a new client or preparing an existing client for hearing, it becomes apparent when asking where one is sitting during the day that they may not actually be “sitting” as that term is meant by the regulations.   Sitting, as one might do at a computer work station, is different than the sitting one might do in a recliner or on a couch, with their back leaning back and their feet raised on an ottoman or sofa.  No employer is going to allow their employee to spend portions of their day with their feet elevated in such a manner, or for that matter lie down for periods of time during the day.   And yet, many individuals applying or Social Security disability benefits fail to make the distinction (and fail to realize that by simply stating they spend their day sitting on the couch all day, that a disability adjudicator or an administrative law judge reviewing their claim may take this to mean they would be capable of performing a sit down job) .  Setting forth in one’s application the periods of time one may need to recline versus sit, or lie down, during the day or week can help ensure that one’s claim is not fatally flawed by a less than clear picture of one’s capabilities.  It is very difficult to undo such harmful damage to one’s claim once such errors take place, and it is yet another example as to how a diligent Social Security disability lawyer involved from the very beginning, can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

In addition to the need to recline or lie, there are a number of other functional limitations which, if present, can impact a disability claimant’s ability to undertake even sedentary types of employment.  For example, assuming one remains incapable of bending and twisting at the waist (that is to say, stooping), this would significantly erode the number of jobs categorized as unskilled sedentary that would remain available as most require the ability to stoop for up to 1/3 of the day.  Many individuals applying for Social Security disability fail to understand that the vast majority of jobs require an individual to be on their feet for up to 1/3 of each hour, and for what would be at least 6 hours out of an 8 hour day: thus, any significant limitation in one’s ability to get up and down from a seated to a standing position, and to walk and stand during the day may serve to significantly impact one’s ability to perform most if not all sit down positions.  Likewise, most unskilled positions require the good use of one’s hands (bilateral manual dexterity) and the ability to undertake fine manipulation with one’s hands with small objects.  Thus, any significant limitation with the use of one’s hands can significantly impact one’s ability to perform a great many of the jobs categorized as sedentary and unskilled.

Understanding the intricacies of the Social Security regulations and how they impact an individual’s claim is how your Social Security lawyer can ensure your claim is fully presented and receives a fair review.  Contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 or on line so as to assure yourself that your case receives the attention it deserves.