So how do you define “sedentary work”? Can you define it by using a Functional Capacity Assessment?

Can you disregard the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) in your assessment? Probably not.

Here’s the case of Armani v. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. November 4, 2016)(District Court erred by not considering the DOT definition of “sedentary work.”)

FACTS: Armani, a controller for Renaissance, injured his back. He could sit for two-four hours, and stand or walk for two hours, out of an 8 hour work-day. Northwestern initially approved disability payments, and then discontinued them concluding he could perform sedentary work, based on a Functional Capacity Assessment.

Plaintiff refused to take Northwestern’s decision sitting down, however, and argued that the DOT defined sedentary work as “sitting most of the time, but may involve walking or standing for brief periods of time.”

DISTRICT COURT HELD: Northwestern properly concluded, based on a Functional Capacity Assessment and doctor reviews, that Plaintiff was not disabled from working “any occupation.” Northwestern was not bound by the DOT definition of sedentary (requiring the ability to sit 6 out of 8 hours per workday) because the DOT is “limited to the Social Security [disability] context.”

NINTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: REVERSED

  1. “[C]ourts evaluating ERISA claims and interpreting the DOT have consistently held that an employee who cannot sit for more than four hours in an eight-hour workday cannot perform work classified as ‘sedentary.’” Op. at 9.
  2. “Some… courts have further noted that ‘sedentary work’ generally requires the ability to sit for at least six hours.” Op. at 9.
  3. The District Court erred by concluding that the DOT definition of “sedentary” was “limited to the Social Security context.” Op. at 10.
  4. Note: The DOT was published by the Department of Labor until 1999. It was replaced by the Occupational Information Network, online database. https://www.doleta.gov/programs/onet/eta_default.cfm