SSA Grid Rules Explained

Written by TC Newlin

TC is a disability litigator and one of the managing partners in the Social Security Disability Department at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin. He has had the pleasure of helping thousands of people obtain the benefits they so desperately need.

March 15, 2021

What Are Social Security Grid Rules?

At age 50 and older it gets easier to be approved for Social Security Disability benefits.

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has recognized that it is harder for a person in that age group to obtain a job than it is for a younger individual.

Because of this, the SSA has come up with the Social Security Grid Rules.

Thus, if an individual is age 50 or older and is unable to perform their past work, the grid rules may warrant a finding of disability. These rules do not apply to younger individuals who are under the age of 50.

Every decision-maker goes through a 5-step evaluation process when deciding whether or not an individual is “disabled” as defined by the SSA.

The SSA grids are often used to save a case if it gets past step 4 of the evaluation process but would be normally denied at step 5.

Generally speaking, grid rules are only applicable to claimant’s whose ailments are physical in nature. Mental only claims do not get to take advantage of the grid rules.

5-Step Evaluation Process

StepTestAction
1Are you working at SGA?*If yes, denied. If no, go to step 2.
2Do you have a severe condition?If yes, go to step 3. If no, denied.
3Do you meet one of the disability listings?If yes, you are disabled. If no, go to step 4.
4Can you perform your past work?If yes, denied. If no, go to step 5.
5Are there other jobs that you can perform?If yes, denied. If no, you are disabled.

*SGA-Substantial Gainful Activity in 2020 is $1,260 per month, in 2021 it is $1,310 per month. 

First Factor: Age

The first thing an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) must do is determine what age category a claimant is in.  The disability process takes longer than we would like so if you have had a birthday between the date you became disabled and the date you receive your decision, you could be in two categories.  The SSA has grouped claimants into the following age categories:

SSA Age Categories

AgeCategory
Under 50Younger individual
50-54Approaching Advanced Age
55-59Advanced Age
60 and aboveClosely approaching Retirement Age

Second Factor: Education

The next factor an ALJ must consider is the level of education a claimant has obtained. The SSA has recognized that the more education an individual has, the higher the likelihood that person can get a job. As a result, the grids are adjusted in some instances for education. The following categories are used to define “education”:

SSA Education Categories

LevelDefinition
IlliterateInability to read/write in any language. Less than 4th grade
Marginal4th grade to 6th grade
Limited7th grade to 11th grade
High School or More12th grade or equivalent (obtained a G.E.D.)
The definition of “unskilled”, “semi-skilled” and “skilled” the that the SSA provide us are not very good. The best advice I have is to find your past work in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“D.O.T.”) and look at the Specific Vocational Preparation number (“SVP”). 1-2 is unskilled, 3-4 is semi-skilled, while 5 and up is considered skilled work.

If you look up “fast food worker”, you will see it has a strength level of L (we will get to that next) and an SVP number of 2. The “2” lets us know that it is considered an unskilled job.

The D.O.T. is the book that a Vocational Expert is likely to use at your disability hearing. Although written in the 90’s and outdated, it is the resource used in most disability determinations when determining a claimant’s past work as well as his ability to adjust to other work.

It’s not just used in determining the skill level of jobs, it is also used to determine the physical demand of those jobs, which we will discuss next. If you are in a higher age category you (or your attorney) should become at least familiar with this resource.

Third Factor: Previous Work Experience

The third factor an ALJ must consider is the skill level of your prior work. An ALJ will only consider work you have performed over the last 15 years. Much like education, the more skills you acquire in your previous jobs, the more likely an employer will be to hire you for a similar position. The SSA has also recognized this by adjusting the grids in some instances to reflect an individual’s acquisition of various skills through their prior employment.

SSA Skill Levels

LevelDefinition
UnskilledUnskilled occupations are the least complex types of work. Jobs are unskilled when persons can usually learn to do them in 30 days or less.
Semi-skilledSemiskilled occupations are more complex than unskilled work and simpler than skilled jobs. They contain more variables and require more judgment than unskilled occupations. The content of work activities in some semiskilled jobs may be little more than unskilled.
SkilledSkilled occupations are more complex and varied. They require more training time and often a higher educational attainment.

Final Factor: Residual Functional Capacity

Finally, an ALJ will have to determine the physical exertion requirements of work.

This is done by classifying jobs as sedentary, light, medium, heavy and very heavy. Both the SSA and the D.O.T. define these terms the same. Generally speaking, if you can perform the heavier classification of jobs, you can also perform the lesser demanding jobs.

Learn more about Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)

Physical Exertion Requirements

nt_header_0LiftingStand/Walk in 8-hour daySit in 8-hour dayExamples
10lbs2 hours6 hoursOffice work
20lbs6 hours2 hoursFast-food/Cashier/ Housekeeping
50lbs6 hours2 hoursPatient Care Work/Janitor
100lbs6 hours2 hoursSkilled construction jobs
Over 1006 hours2 hoursUnskilled construction jobs
The ALJ will also make a determination as to what level of exertion you are capable of performing work.  If the ALJ thinks you can lift 20lbs on occasion and stand 6 hours in an 8-hour day, she will have essentially determined that you can perform jobs at the light level.

Social Security Disability Rules After Age 50

If you are over 50 and denied SSDI, make sure you take advantage of the SSDI over 50 grid rules.  For those seeking disability over 50, you generally will be found disabled if you are limited to performing work at the sedentary level.  This limitation must make you unable to perform your past work, and you have no job skills that are easily transferable to other work at the sedentary level.

In an effort to simplify this for you, I am only going to include rules that result in a favorable decision.  The complete SSDI Grid Rules can be found here.

Favorable SSDI Grid Rules

Disability Grid Rules for Those Over 50
Grid Rule NumberClaimant capable ofEducationPrior job skill levelResult
201.09SedentaryLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled
201.1SedentaryLimited or lessSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
201.12SedentaryHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workUnskilled or noneDisabled
201.14SedentaryHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
202.09LightIlliterateUnskilled or noneDisabled
SSA Grid Rules Eligibility: Example 1

An ALJ determines that a 51-year-old high school graduate is limited to sedentary work. The claimant’s past work is that of an usher at your favorite sports stadium.

Step 1 is to define “usher” in terms of its physical demand and it’s skill level.  I looked this job up in the D.O.T. and determine that it’s a light (“Strength L”) unskilled job (“SVP 2”).

This particular scenario would warrant a finding of disability under grid rule 201.12

SSA Grid Rules Eligibility: Example 2

An ALJ determines that a 53-year-old high school graduate is limited to sedentary work. The claimant’s past work is that of a receptionist at a law office.

Step 1 is to define “receptionist” in terms of it’s physical demand and its skill level. I looked this job up in the D.O.T. and determine that it is a sedentary (“Strength S”), semi-skilled job (“SVP 4”).

In this particular scenario, the claimant would be denied at Step 4 as the claimant would be capable of performing his past work. Claimant was found capable of performing work at the sedentary level and the receptionist job is generally performed at the sedentary level. Remember, the grid rules only save those claims that make it past step 4, but would have been denied at step 5 of the 5-step determination process described at the beginning of this article.

Social Security Disability Rules After Age 55

If you are over 55 and denied SSDI, a decisionmaker will need to determine if the SSDI over 55 grid rules apply in your case.  For those seeking disability over 55, you generally will be found disabled if you are limited to performing light work, which also includes sedentary work.  This limitation must make you unable to perform your past work, and you cannot have job skills that are easily transferable to other work you are capable of doing.  You will also be found disabled at the medium level if your education is limited or less and you have no prior work history.

In an effort to simplify this for you, I am only going to include rules that result in a favorable decision.  The complete SSDI Grid Rules can be found here.

Favorable SSDI Grid Rules

Disability Grid Rules for Those Over 55
Grid Rule NumberClaimant Capable ofEducationPrior Job Skill LevelResult
201.01SedentaryLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled
201.02SedentaryLimited or lessSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
201.04SedentaryHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workUnskilled or noneDisabled
201.06SedentaryHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
202.01LightLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled
202.02LightLimited or lessSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
202.04LightHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workUnskilled or noneDisabled
202.06LightHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
203.1MediumLimited or lessNoneDisabled
SSA Grid Rules Eligibility: Example 1

An ALJ determines that a 55-year-old individual with a limited education is capable of a light job as of his 54th birthday. The claimant’s past work was a general laborer in the construction industry.

General laborer is a very heavy (“Strength V”) unskilled (“SVP 2”) job.

In this scenario, the claimant would be considered disabled under grid rule 202.01 as of her 55th birthday (actually the day before her 55th birthday as there is a rule that permits the judge to award the day prior to the date of birth). There is no favorable grid rule for the period of time prior to that date.

SSA Grid Rules Eligibility: Example 2

An ALJ determines that a 56-year-old claimant with a limited education is capable of a light job. The claimant’s past work was as a taxi driver.

Taxi driver is a medium (“Strength M”) semi-skilled (“SVP 3”) job.

In this situation, there is a chance that a vocational expert, at hearing, will testify that the claimant has the transferable skill of “driving” from performing the taxi job. These skills could transfer to a job like a chauffeur, which is a light (“Strength L”) semi-skilled job (“SVP 3”).

Under this scenario, the claimant would not satisfy one of the grid rules and the claimant would be denied at step 5 of the evaluation process.

Social Security Disability Rules After Age 60

If you are over the age of 60 and denied SSDI, a decisionmaker will need to determine if the SSDI over 60 grid rules apply in your case.  For those seeking disability over 60, you generally will be found disabled if you are limited to performing light work, which also includes sedentary work.  This limitation must make you unable to perform your past work, and you cannot have job skills that are easily transferable to other work you are capable of doing.  You will also be found disabled at the medium level if your education is limited or less and you have no work history.  Another scenario at the medium level where you will be found disabled is if your education is marginal or less and you have no work history or a work history at the unskilled level. 

In an effort to simplify this for you, I am only going to include rules that result in a favorable decision.  The complete SSDI Grid Rules can be found here

Favorable SSDI Grid Rules

Disability Grid Rules for Those Over 60
Grid Rule NumberClaimant Capable ofEducationPrior Job Skill LevelResult
201.01SedentaryLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled
201.02SedentaryLimited or lessSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
201.04SedentaryHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workUnskilled or noneDisabled
201.06SedentaryHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
202.01LightLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled
202.02LightLimited or lessSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
202.04LightHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workUnskilled or noneDisabled
202.06LightHigh school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled - skills not transferableDisabled
203.1MediumLimited or lessNoneDisabled
SSA Grid Rules Eligibility: Example 1

An ALJ determines that a 62-year-old individual with a limited education is capable of a light job as of her 61 birthday. An additional limitation was added that due to the claimant’s depression she is also limited to simple, routine type tasks.  The claimant’s past work is as a mortgage loan closer. 

Mortgage loan closer is a sedentary (“Strength S”) skilled (“SVP 5”) job. 

In this situation, the claimant is unable to perform her past work.  The claimant could physically perform the job as the mortgage loan closer is a sedentary job and the ALJ found the claimant capable of performing work at the light level. 

She is unable to perform the mental aspects of the job though.  The ALJ limited her to unskilled work with the “simple/routine limitation”.  The mortgage loan closer is a skilled job according to the D.O.T..  Transferability of skills from the skilled job are not an issue because the claimant is limited to simple routine or unskilled work, which by definition has no skill requirements. 

The claimant’s age, education and vocational profile mirror that of grid rule 202.02 and a finding of disability would be warranted. 

Do I Qualify for SSD Benefits?

Browse our SSDI resource library to find clear answers and determine if you qualify for up to $3,148/month in SSD benefits.

Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability?

Browse our SSDI resource library to find clear answers and determine if you qualify for up to $3,148/month in SSD benefits.

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