What is your residual functional capacity, RFC and how is it determined

By Michelle Shvarts
Principal Attorney

What is your residual functional capacity, RFC and how is it determined

The Social Security Administration will not only determine disability benefits on your disability and medical evidence but also look into the details of your work functionalities – whether you are able to work or how much your disability prevents you from working – the SSA looks into all of this.

While determining whether the disability prevents you from performing substantial gainful activity, SGA, the SSA will calculate your Residual Functional Capacity, RFC. The SSA will also calculate how much work activity you can perform whether on a continuing or a regular basis i.e., if you are able to meet the 40 hour a week work requirement, in spite of your disability.

How is residual functional capacity determined?

If you are able to meet the minimum 40 hours a week work requirement and are mentally and physically fit enough to perform substantial gainful activity, SGA then your disability benefits claim will be denied. However, the SSA would determine if you are still capable of performing some sort of work to earn a living, depending on your age, education, physical fitness and prior work experience.

Unfortunately your social security disability claim would only be approved if you cannot perform work under substantial gainful activity, SGA.

How is level of capability determined?

Your physical residual functional capacity report determines if you are able to perform any kind of light, medium or hard work in spite your disability. Here are the various RFC levels that would appear in your RFC form to be evaluated by the SSA:

Sedentary work

This is the bare amount of work you could be doing to earn a living. This means that you cannot lift more than 10 pounds at one time but are able to lift or carry things such as files or small tools. A sedentary job does not require too much work standing or lifting heavy subject, it consists of activities that mostly require sitting and an ability to walk and stand occasionally, such as a clerk.

Light work

This is considered light work because it involves lifting up to 20 pounds of weight at one time or occasionally while also being able to lift 10 pounds or more frequently. Light work also requires frequent walking and standing, ability to push your arms and legs frequently. Also since you are able to perform light work you can also perform sedentary work.

Medium work

This is when you are able to lift up to 50 pounds at a time and you can frequently lift up or carry up to 25 pounds of weight. It would be obvious to state that if you can do medium work then you can also do light and sedentary work.

Heavy work

This is when you are able to lift up to 100 pounds at a time or occasionally, and that you can frequently lift or carry up to 50 pounds a week frequently. If you can perform heavy work then you are also able to perform sedentary, light and medium work.

Very heavy work

Any activity involving you to carry more than 100 pounds at one time and lift up or carry 50 pounds occasionally would be considered as very heavy work.

Apart from the levels of work, your RFC will also determine if you are able to stoop, bend your fingers and remember instructions given for a specific task.

If the disability examiner decides that you are unfit to continue work on your prior job they will look into whether you can perform work in another type of job depending on your current abilities and health status including age, education, skills and ability to learn new skills. If the disability examiner finds out that you are unfit to perform any kind of activity to gain substantial gainful work hours then you would be considered eligible for the disability benefits.

It can be a very difficult for you to think of and gather all the necessary points for your RFC. You can consult a disability attorney to provide you legal guidance specific to your situation.

About the Author
Ms. Shvarts is the managing attorney for Disability Advocates Group. She opened Disability Advocates Group to assist individuals who became disabled and unable to work to obtain the benefits they need and deserve.  Ms. Shvarts and the rest of the team at Disability Advocates Group are dedicated to assisting individuals obtain Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.