This post discusses the SSA Grid Rules (the “Grids”) which are short for the Medical Vocational Guidelines used by SSA when evaluating your claim for disability benefits.
Social Security offers two main types of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both benefits have their own eligibility standards but you must be found disabled under SSA’s Five Step Sequential Evaluation before you are entitled to either.
The Five Step Sequential Evaluation:
- Are you working? If not or making less than substantial gainful activity, you proceed to Step 2.
- Is your condition severe (severe impairment)? If yes, you proceed to Step 3.
- Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? If yes, you are found disabled at this step. If no, you are given a residual functional capacity (RFC) and proceed to Step 4.
- Can you do the work you previously did? If yes, you are found not disabled. If no, you proceed to Step 5.
- Can you do any other type of work? If yes, you are found not disabled. If no, you are found disabled by SSA.
The SSA Grid Rules
The “Grids” are used at Step 5 of the sequential evaluation to determine if there is other work that you can do. If you look here and scroll down, you will see a chart – these are the grids. The Grids only apply to exertional limitations (non-exertional conditions such as depression, dexterity, vision, etc. are not considered).
There are 3 different grids: sedentary work , light work and medium work. There is no grid for heavy work. An assumption is made by SSA that if you can perform heavy work that you can perform all less physically demanding work: medium, light and sedentary.
According to SSR 83-10:
- Sedentary Work involves standing/walking no more than 2 hours in a 8-hour day; lifting no more than 10 lbs. Sedentary jobs require significant hand use.
- Light Work involves standing/walking 6 hours in a 8-hour day; lifting 20 lbs frequently. Pushing and pulling are normal light work tasks.
- Medium Work involves standing/walking 6 hours in a 8-hour day; lifting 50 lbs at one time and 25 pounds frequently. Grasping, holding and turning objects with frequent bending/stooping make medium work more intense than light work.
At the top of each chart, you will see rule, age, education, previous work experience and decision. In the past, English proficiency was a consideration, but SSA ended that as a work impediment in 2020.
Age can be one of three categories:
1. Advanced age (55+) – this category also has a subcategory called closely approaching retirement age (age 60 or older);
2. Approaching advanced age (50-54); and
3. Younger individual (18-49). Children are not evaluated under the grids. They are evaluated under the child standard of disability, discussed here .
Age is a significant factor when using the grids. An older disabled worker who is unskilled has a greater chance of being found disabled based on the grids. As you will notice, the younger you are the more “not disabled” decisions you see on the right. This does not mean that you will automatically be approved because you are over 50 years of age. Remember, the SSA creates the RFC (residual functional capacity) based on your medical records and testimony.
Education is broken down into marginal education (6th grade or less), limited education (7th – 11th grade), or high school graduate or more. Education can be given substantial weight if you completed it recently or in the alternative, less weight, if you completed your typing degree in the 1980s when typewriters were the main office equipment. Clients frequently have went to school for trades that they never used.
Work experience is broken into unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled work. At the early part of your disability case, SSA (or DDS, depending on your state) will send you a Work History Report (SSA-3369) to complete. The information you completed on that form will tell SSA about your past work. The SSA will compare your past work with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).
The DOT is used to determine the skill level, exertional level and transferability of skills from your past relevant work. For example, a doctor (070.101-022) has a skilled job because complex decision making and judgment is required. In the alternative, a general laborer (519.686-010) is considered an unskilled job.
The SSA uses a vocational expert to determine if your skills are transferable. In order to have “transferable skills” from your work experience, you must have performed the job long enough to learn skills. You can not transfer skills from or to unskilled work.
The Social Security Administration ( DDS and the Administrative Law Judge ) will come up with an RFC (residual functional capacity) for you based on your impairments, age, education and work experience at Step 3 above. The RFC is their estimation of what you can do with the impairments that you have. They will then apply that RFC to the Grids and the Grids dictate the outcome of your disability case.
When my firm has a claimant who may grid in their disability claim, we usually ask the following questions about physical limitations:
- How long can you stand without pain? What happens if you stand longer than X minutes? Where do you have pain? What makes this pain better?
- How long can you walk without pain? Do you use a cane or other aid to walk? Which hand do you hold the cane in? Do you have to take breaks when you walk? How long must you break before you continue walking?
- How much weight can you lift without pain? Gallon of milk, two gallons of milk, etc. When was the last time you tried to lift more than X pounds? What happened?
The SSA Grid Rules help your Social Security Disability case if you have physical impairments that affect your ability to walk/stand/lift, are an older worker, and have a work history without transferable skills. For every one else, you will find little help there.
The SSA can also use the Social Security Listing of Impairments or the combination of your severe impairments to find you eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. The Listings are considered in Step 3 (as mentioned above). Most Listings are difficult to meet and a claimant is usually unable to work long before they meet a listing.
When making a “combination of impairments” Social Security disability argument, all health issues that affect your ability to work should be included. Symptoms from your impairments, medication side affects, treatments you have tried and what your doctors have told you about your prognosis should all be discussed at your disability hearing.
The Bishop Law Firm represents disability claimants in North Carolina. We do not get paid unless we win your case. Call us today for a free case evaluation, (919) 615-3095.
For more information read Overview of the Disability Process