At the final step in the sequential process utilized by the SSA to process claims, the SSA will utilize the Grid Rules. These are a series of rules detailing presumptions about a Claimants ability to be employed based upon age, restrictions, and former employment. The rules themselves seem quite complex, but are fairly easy to understand if you group the limits by age rather than level of disability as discussed below.
To be approved for disability under Step 5 of the sequential process, Claimants age 49 and under must show that they are unable to work at a “below sedentary” work level. This means that they cannot sit at a desk or table to perform work. Typically if one has a severe physical injury, they are still capable of sitting down in a chair and utilizing their upper extremities. Thus, they can perform sedentary work. Persons age 49 and under must show that they cannot perform at this severely limited capacity. Typically, one who has had a severe back problem or severe damage to both upper extremities as well as a back problem will qualify. Everyone else needs to meet a listing under Step 3. These are some of the hardest cases and require a treating physician to give clear statements of limitations.
To be approved for disability under Step 5 of the sequential process, Claimants age 50-54 must show that they are limited to sedentary work and have no transferable job skills. This is especially important for people who have never done sedentary work. If a Claimants prior work was either unskilled or involved skills that cannot transfer to a sedentary type of job, then the Claimant should qualify for disability.
To be approved for disability under Step 5 of the sequential process, Claimants age 55-59 must show that they are limited to light work without transferable job skills. Light work is defined as lifting less than 20 pounds. Often persons working in manufacturing or jobs involving heavy lifting who suffer injuries will qualify under this Grid Rule.
For this age group, Claimants must show they cannot perform medium work which is defined as up to 50 pounds. Note that the closer the Claimant is to retirement age, the easier it is to qualify under the Grid Rules. Many Claimants with any impairment who are over the age of 60 should qualify unless their prior work consists primarily of light or sedentary work.
The Grid Rules are crucial to nearly all Social Security cases. Less than 5% of Claimants will meet a Listing of Disability (Step 3) so nearly everyone is evaluated using these Grid Rules. There are some alterations of the Grid Rules such as people who are within a few months of the next age category or where someone is illiterate. These issues may change the Rules that apply to that individual and are something that should be presented to the SSA with as much documentation as possible.