Residual Functional Capacity
Typically, because of the high bar set at Step 3, most claimants are unable to meet the requirements of the Listings of impairments. If you are unable to establish disability under the Listings, you then move on to Step 4 of the process. Here, the analysis shifts substantially. Whereas the Listings looked at individual conditions in isolation, the analysis at step 4 instead considers the whole person and how all of her impairments might affect her ability to work. The lingo used in this process is that the agency formulates a “Residual Functional Capacity” (RFC). The simplest way to understand an RFC is to think of it as the work restrictions that an employer would have to accord you in order for you to be able to work.
How Does The ALJ Determine Your Functional Capacity?
There is a wide variation among the ALJs in how they go about determining your limitations. Generally, the ALJ will read the reports of the government doctors, as well as your doctors, to see what restrictions each has assessed to you. As there will typically be disagreement with the different reports, the ALJ can review the evidence of records, including the medical records, your testimony and written statements and other lay (non-medical) testimony you might provide.
The RFC assessed by the ALJ must be specific and must incorporate all of the claimant’s limitations supported by the record. Below is an example of what a typical RFC evaluation from an ALJ might look like:
I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c). The claimant can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. The claimant can stand 6 hours in and eight-hour workday and sit for 6 hours in a workday. He should avoid all hazards such as machinery, heights, etc. Mentally, the claimant would have some but not substantial difficulty with recall, concentration and pace in completing tasks, relating to the public adapting to change and making simple plans.
As will be evident as the Sequential Evaluation goes on, the restrictions that you can convince the ALJ to adopt in this functional capacity is usually the determining factor in deciding whether or not you are disabled. For more on the types of restrictions that can be adopted, click here to see this related post.