SSA Grid Rules: Disability Under Age 50

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.

June 1, 2021

Will the SSA Grid Rules Help Me Get My Social Security Disability Benefits?

The grids generally do not help claimant’s with SSDI under age 50 but there are some exceptions.

The grid rules really do not come into play until you turn 50; however, there are limited circumstances in which they can be advantageous for younger individuals.

For those under the age of 50, it is much more common to be found disabled by meeting a listing or being found incapable of performing any job for 8-hour days for 5 days a week.

So, let’s go over some of the commons expressions you’ll find when reviewing the grid rules. Obtaining SSDI under age 50 is tricky, but it’s not impossible. The SSA Grid rules for this are discussed on Social Security Administration’s SSDI pages, but it can be confusing especially when there are some exceptions to the rule.

Grid Rules Factor: “Disabled Pursuant to the Listings”

The first opportunity to be found disabled is to meet a “listing“.In order to meet a “listing”, you must first locate your particular ailment in the listing of impairments.

Once located, you will need to have proof, via medical evidence, that your ailment satisfies each individual section of that particular listing.If your ailment satisfies the requirements, you will be found disabled.

Few people are found disabled this way.The listings are very specific and it is somewhat rare for a claimant to have an ailment that perfectly meets the requirements of a listing.

Grid Rules Factor: “Unable to Perform Sedentary Occupations”

The next best opportunity, for those under age 50, to be found disabled is to be found incapable of performing any job 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.The most common ways to be found incapable of performing SGA is by proving one of the following:

  • Absenteeism – generally speaking, if you need to miss 2 or more days of work a month due to your condition on an ongoing basis, you will be found disabled.
  • Off-task (need to lay down/extra breaks) – usually, if your condition will cause you to be ‘off-task’ (unable to perform actual work duties) 15% of the work day, you will be found disabled.This could be caused due to a need to lay down or needing extra breaks.It could also be caused from pain so intense that it makes it impossible to focus on your work tasks.
  • Need to elevate leg – at hearings, vocational experts routinely opine that if an individual needs to elevate his/her leg above heart level for any significant period of time, he or she will not be able to maintain employment and will be found disabled.
  • Sedentary RFC plus the inability to stoop – Social Security rules state that if an individual is limited to sedentary work and has an inability to stoop, there are no jobs in the national economy that that individual is capable of performing.The rules thus call for a claimant with these limitations to be found disabled.

These are simply common examples that are often used to prove an inability to engage in work.

If you are under age 50 you should ask yourself, ‘What keeps me from performing any job 8 hours a day, 5 days a week?’.Whatever the answer to that question may be, you should work to develop proof to support that reasoning.

SSDI Grids – Age 45-50

As mentioned above, the grid rules really do not come into play until you reach age 50. There are; however, some limited circumstances in which they can help someone over age 45.

Non-Mechanical Application of the Grid Rules

If an individual is within months of attaining a higher age category, social security will bump that claimant into the higher age category if it would result in a favorable decision and the claimant has additional vocational adversities.

It should be noted that the Administration has not defined ‘months’ or ‘vocational adversities’.From experience, 2 months is close enough and more than 6 months is too far away.Results seem to vary between that range.Vocational adversities can be just about anything.Some common examples are things like a lack of high school education, inability to use a non-dominate hand, or difficulties communicating.

Example: If a claimant were 49 years and 10 months of age and was only capable of sedentary work, a judge should entertain a ‘non-mechanical application’ of the grid rules by applying the grid rules as though the claimant were age 50.As the rules state; however, the claimant must have additional vocational adversities and bumping the claimant into the next age category must result in a favorable decision.

Actual Grid Rules for Age 45-50

There is one instance where the grids apply to someone between the ages of 45 and 50.Essentially if you are only capable of sedentary work, are illiterate or unable to communicate in English, and have no work history or a work history consisting of unskilled work, you will be found disabled if you are no longer capable of performing your past work.

SSA Grid-Defined Exertion Level

Exertional LevelSittingStandingLifting
Sedentary6 hours2 hours10lbs occasionally
Light2 hours6 hours20lbs occasionally
Medium2 hours6 hours50lbs occasionally
Heavy2 hours6 hours100lbs occasionally
Very Heavy2 hours6 hoursOver 100lbs

How to Determine if Grid Rules Will Apply to Me

  1. The first step is to locate the table under the exertional level that you are capable of performing.
  2. Then you need to locate the row that correctly identifies your education level.
  3. The next column requires a definition of your past work. Past work is work that you have done over the last 15 years. Work is defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles by exertional level and skill level. The question about whether or not you have transferable skills is one that is typically answered by a vocation expert (“VE”) at a disability hearing. Your lawyer should be familiar enough with the dictionary to give you an approximation of what a VE might say at your hearing.
  4. The final column tells you whether or not an Administrative Law Judge would be required to award benefits.

Example:

Let’s say the claimant is 47 years old, is capable of performing sit down work (Sedentary exertional level) and, has past work in an apple orchard as a sorter. Let’s also assume that the claimant is unable to read, write or speak English.

Step 1

Locate the table under sedentary work.

Step 2

Find the three rows for “Illiterate or unable to communicate in English”.

Step 3

I googled ‘dictionary of occupational titles apple sorter’ and found a job actually titled SORTER, AGRICULTURAL.

If you click on that link, you’ll see at the bottom in bold that the strength of this job is “L” and the SVP of this job is “2”. (SVP 1-2 is unskilled; 3-4 is semi-skilled; 5 and up is skilled work).

Step 4

Note that the 4th row in the sedentary table has the same education and work experience as our example and warrants a finding of disabled.

Under these facts, the claimant would be found disabled.

Sedentary Grid Rules SSA

EducationSkill LevelDecision
Illiterate or unable to communicate in EnglishUnskilled work or no workDisabled
Limited or less but literate and able to communicate in EnglishUnskilled or noneNot Disabled
Limited or LessSkilled or semi-skilled; skills not transferableNot Disabled
Limited or LessSkilled or semi-skilled; skills transferableNot Disabled
HS grad or moreSkilled or semi-skilled; skills not transferableNot Disabled
HS grad or moreSkilled or semi-skilled; skills transferableNot Disabled

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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