What is your Residual Functional Capacity, or RFC?

In order to know whether you can do your job (or any other work in the economy), the Long Term Disability (LTD) insurance company needs to know what you are still able to do (your “functional capacity”), after considering the effects of your disability (“residual”). For example, if you can still sit and type for extended periods of time, but you cannot stand or walk more than two hours total in an eight hour day, your residual functional capacity is such that you may be able to perform sedentary work but not light, medium or heavy duty work.

What Is Your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)?

To learn what your residual capabilities are, the insurance company may ask for you to take an Attending Physician’s Statement (APS) form to your doctor (this form is also known as a Residual Functional Capacity form). If the insurance company claims handler does not believe the APS is sufficient (for example, if the doctor’s responses on the form are totally inconsistent with the medical records in the claim), the adjuster may schedule you an appointment to attend an “Independent Medical Examination” by a doctor hired by the insurance company. This doctor will then perform an RFC (residual functional capacity) assessment for your claim. The examiner will determine what level of exertion you are capable of performing, and what restrictions you have that may limit the jobs you can do. The medical examiner may also review your medical records and your doctor’s notes about your functional abilities and restrictions to come up with your RFC. (For more information about RFC forms, see our article on the RFC form.)

What Level of Activity Are You Capable Of Performing?

Physical Impairments

Your physical RFC will determine whether you can perform sedentary, light, medium or heavy duty work. For example, if your doctor has restricted you to walking and standing no more than two hours total in an eight hour day, your RFC will be for sedentary work. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the various exertional levels:

  • Sedentary work. A sedentary job is one that is primarily sitting, with occasional walking and standing. To perform a sedentary occupation, you usually do not need to lift and carry more than ten pounds at a time, and you may be required to occasionally lift or carry things like files or small tools.
  • Light work. Light work typically requires frequent walking and/or standing, as well as the ability to reach, push and pull with your arms or legs. Light duty jobs typically require the ability to lift and up to 20 pounds occasionally, and up to ten pounds frequently. If one can perform light work, one is generally considered capable of performing sedentary work.
  • Medium work. A medium duty job typically requires one to be able to lift and carry up to 50 pounds at a time, and the ability to frequently lift and/or carry up to 25 pounds. If one can perform medium work, one is generally considered capable of performing light and sedentary work.
  • Heavy work. Heavy duty work typically requires the ability to lift and carry up to 100 pounds at a time, and the ability to frequently lift and/or carry up to 50 pounds. If one can perform heavy work, one is generally considered capable of performing medium, light, or sedentary work.
  • Very heavy work. Very heavy work typically requires the ability to lift and carry objects that weigh more than 100 pounds, and the ability to frequently lift and/or carry 50 pounds or more. If one can perform very heavy work, one is generally considered capable of performing all other levels as well.

Your RFC will also include any non-exertional restrictions, such as not being able to stoop, use your fingers, or remember instructions.

Mental Impairments

Your mental RFC will determine whether you can perform work-related mental activities. When evaluating the claimant’s mental residual functional capacity, the claims handler will look at four primary functional areas: (1) understanding and memory; (2) social interactions; (3) sustained concentration, persistence, and pace; and (4) adaptation to changes in the work environment.

Thus, a mental RFC form completed by a mental health professional (such as a psychologist or psychiatrist) should make reference to a claimant’s mental impairments due to the claimant’s mental conditions (for example, poor memory, decreased energy, illogical thinking, and so on). The mental RFC should also opine as to the claimant’s ability to persist in the areas of concentration and attention, as well as a claimant’s ability to interact socially in work settings, assimilate new information, and successfully engage in SRRTs (simple, routine, repetitive tasks).

How Your RFC Is Used

If your claim is still within the “own occupation” period, the LTD disability claims examiner will first use your RFC to determine if you can be expected to do your own job. For example, if your prior job was sedentary and your RFC is for sedentary work (or higher), the claims examiner will likely find you should be able to return to your job, unless your RFC identifies further non-exertional restrictions (non-exertional impairments may include mental or emotional limitations, such as memory problems from a psychiatric or neurological disorder, or an inability to concentrate).

If your claim is within the “any occupation” period, then the claims examiner will review your RFC to determine whether you could return to any job in the economy.

Note: to be considered able to work, you should be able to work full time, attend work regularly, be productive at work, and not need to take frequent rest breaks.