When you apply for disability, Social Security evaluates your case using a very detailed set of rules called the grid rules. These rules are designed to help Social Security employees, no matter where they are located, evaluate every case in a uniform manner.
Many of Social Security’s rules deal with the evaluation of medical information. However, Social Security has published some lesser known rules called the “medical-vocational guidelines” that focus less on medical problems and more on your age, education and work background. Most Social Security lawyers and judges refer to these rules as the “grid rules” because they are set out in a 5 column table.
These grid rules are the focus of this web site and the goal of this site is to help you understand and apply the grid rules – hopefully for the purpose of winning a favorable decision.
The premise of the grid rules is simple: Social Security recognizes that as you get older, you will have a more difficult time finding a job. Specifically Social Security recognizes that employers are less likely to offer an entry level job to a man or woman aged 50 or older. The less education you have or the fewer job skills you have, the harder it will be to find employment.
These vocational realities are codified in the grid rules. The practical effect of the grid rules is to authorize a judge or adjudicator to find you disabled even if you can still do some level or work.
The Grid Rules Only Apply When You
Have Physical Limitations
At the top of this site, you will see buttons labeled “Sedentary,” “Light,” and “Medium.” These terms refer to your physical capacity for work, and are defined as follows:
Sedentary: Sedentary work means that you are able to sit for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day, and lift up to 10 lbs. occasionally during a day
Light: Light work means that you can stand and walk for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day, lift 10 lbs. frequently and 20 lbs. occasionally
Medium: Medium work means that you can stand and walk for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day, lift 25 lbs. frequently and 50 lbs. occasionally
Physical Problems Only
You can only use the grid rules if you have a physical limitation. Purely mental health problems or a pain diagnosis without lifting and standing restrictions will not allow you to use the grids.
Understanding Skill Levels and Transferable Skills
When you look at the grid tables, you will see a column labeled “Previous Work” that classifies your past work as:
- semi-skilled or skilled, skills not transferable
- semi-skilled or skilled, skills transferable
These classifications provide further information about your capacity to work.
Unskilled. The grid rules offer the most benefit to workers who have unskilled work backgrounds. If your past work is unskilled, then Social Security assumes that you would be limited to a simple, entry-level job and the grid rules recognize that there are very few of these entry-level jobs open to workers over age 50 with physical limitations.
Semi-skilled or skilled work background, skills not transferable. As a general rule, Social Security views workers with skills that do not transfer the same as workers without skills. In other words, if you previously worked as a jet engine mechanic, you clearly have skills related to complex machine repair. But those skills are not going to help you if you seek work outside the airplane maintenance industry.
Semi-skilled or skilled work background, skills transferable. If you have transferable skills to lighter work, generally the grid rules won’t help you. Remember, the grid rules are designed to help older workers with limited education and limited work skills – folks who would have the most difficulty re-entering the work force. If you are highly educated or if you have numerous work skills, you have more potential job options. You may be able to argue for disability on other grounds but the grid rules won’t help you.
Figuring out how to classify your past work can be a challenge, especially if you are making a grid rule argument without the benefit of an attorney. If you want to dive into the resource that Social Security currently uses, here is a link to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (the DOT). In theory the DOT identifies and classifies every job that exists in the United States’ economy. The DOT is a flawed resource because it is woefully outdated (it was last updated in 1999, with some parts last updated in the 1970’s) but Social Security has not been able to find a better resource yet.
Examples of cases that considered the grid rules are available for your review on this site.
If your doctor has given you specific lifting and standing restrictions or if you have a sense of where you fall on this scale, you can click the appropriate button and find your profile. If you see the word “disabled” on the right column, you may have a good chance at winning under the grid rules.