In making determinations about whether or not a claimant can return to work, the Judge must establish work restrictions. (For more, see previous posts: Step 4, Part 1 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, and Step 4, Part 2). These work restrictions may include limitations to “sedentary” work. The simplest way of thinking about this is that sedentary work restricts you to a “sit-down job.” Specifically, if a job requires only two hours standing or less in a workday then it may be considered a sedentary job. The more technical definition of sedentary work is:
The ability to perform the full range of sedentary work requires the ability to lift no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally to lift or carry articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. 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. Unskilled sedentary work also involves other activities, classified as "nonexertional," such as capacities for seeing, manipulation, and understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions.
Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-9 (http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/rulings/di/01/SSR96-09-di-01.html).
Though sedentary work is largely defined by the fact that you are not allowed to stand over two hours, it also has very significant lifting restrictions. There are jobs in the economy (truck driver, forklift operator, sowing machine operator) where you might sit for a majority of the day. However, these jobs will also require that you lift over the 10lb maximum for sedentary work.
Disability attorneys often spend considerable time trying to get a client’s work restrictions to meet this definition. Because of the SSA’s Medical-Vocational guidelines, the difference between sedentary and light restrictions may well determine whether or not a case gets paid.