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Social Security’s Program Operation Manual Series (POMS) was recently amended to state that an RFC must reflect the claimant’s ability to work on a sustained basis. See POMS Section DI 24510.057.

RFC represents the most a claimant can do despite his or her limitations or restrictions. Ordinarily, RFC is the individual’s maximum remaining ability to do sustained work activities:

  • In an ordinary work setting,
  • On a regular and continuing basis, and
  • For 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule.

However, if a claimant is unable to sustain a 40-hour workweek because of a severe medically determinable impairment (MDI), the adjudicator or medical consultant must discuss sustainability in the RFC.

This is not a new policy. The new POMS section mirrors the language of Social Security Ruling 96-8p. However the POMS is a primary source of information used by Social Security employees to process claims for Social Security benefits. So to have Ruling 96-8p explicitly reflected in the POMS can only benefit claimants. 

REMINDER: Inability to sustain a 40-hour workweek is an RFC finding. The adjudicator must use that RFC finding to complete the sequential evaluation process. If the claimant’s past relevant part-time work is within his or her RFC, deny the case at step 4 of the sequential evaluation process. If the claimant cannot do PRW, proceed to step 5. An inability to sustain a 40-hour work week at step 5 would result in a significantly eroded occupational base at all exertional levels. (bold emphasis added)

So, if your RFC limits you to less than full-time work or an equivalent schedule, you will be found disabled at step 5. Remember, however, part-time work at SGA can be past relevant work. If you performed part-time work at the SGA level, and that past relevant work as performed is within your RFC, your claim will be denied at step 4 of the sequential evaluation.