Exertion Levels: What They Are, and Why They Matter
The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) contains definitions of various exertion levels that are used to place different jobs within categories based on the level of strength required to perform each job. You may have noticed these categories listed on claim forms, or referred to in functional capacity evaluation (FCE) reports or independent medical evaluations (IME) reports. In this post, we are going to look at what the various exertion levels are, and why they matter in the disability insurance context.
What Are the Exertion Levels?
The DOT lists five exertion levels—sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy. The DOT definitions for each exertion level are summarized below.
Sedentary Work (S)
Occasionally (i.e. up to 1/3 of the time) exerting up to 10 pounds of force and/or frequently (i.e. from 1/3 to 2/3 of the time) exerting a negligible amount of force to lift, carry, push, pull, or otherwise move objects, including the human body. Sedentary work involves sitting most of the time, but may involve occasional walking or standing for brief periods of time.
Light Work (L)
Occasionally exerting up to 20 pounds of force, and/or frequently exerting up to 10 pounds of force, and/or constantly (i.e. 2/3 or more of the time) exerting a negligible amount of force to move objects. Requires walking or standing to a significant degree, requires sitting most of the time but also involves pushing and/or pulling of arm or leg controls, and/or requires working at a production rate pace entailing the constant pushing and/or pulling of materials even though the weight of those materials is negligible.
Medium Work (M)
Occasionally exerting 20 to 50 pounds of force occasionally, and/or frequently exerting 10 to 25 pounds of force, and/or constantly exerting greater than negligible up to 10 pounds of force to move objects.
Heavy Work (H)
Occasionally exerting 50 to 100 pounds of force, and/or frequently exerting 25 to 50 pounds of force, and/or constantly exerting 10 to 20 pounds of force to move objects.
Very Heavy Work (V)
Occasionally exerting in excess of 100 pounds of force, and/or frequently exerting more than 50 pounds of force, and/or constantly exerting more than 20 pounds of force to move objects.
Why Do They Matter?
Insurers usually rely on the DOT exertion levels in ERISA claims or cases involving “any occupation” policies. First, the disability insurer will seek to establish that the claimant can work at the highest level of capacity possible. Then, the disability insurer will claim that the claimant can return to work performing any job within that category, and any lower categories.
Conversely, if the case involves an “own occupation” policy, the disability insurer will seek to establish that the claimant’s occupation required the lowest level of capacity. The disability insurer will then assert that the claimant’s disability is not severe enough to prevent the claimant from returning to his or her old job.
In either case, if the disability insurer feels that it can demonstrate that a claimant is capable of returning to work, it will likely deny the claim for disability benefits, or terminate existing disability benefits.