After it has been established that the claimant cannot return to his past work, the question becomes whether the claimant can do any job that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. At this point it becomes the Social Security Administration (SSA’s) burden to prove that when taking into account the claimant’s vocational factors (age, education, and work history) and Residual Functional Capacity (RFC), there are jobs the claimant can do.
In 1979, the SSA created regulations, known as the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (Grids), in an attempt to standardize Step 5 and create more consistency in decisions. The Grids contain 3 charts, each for a different RFC. The claimant’s information is matched with the Grids, it results in a conclusive finding of “disabled” or “not disabled.”
The Grids cannot be used to direct a ruling in cases where the claimant’s specific profile does not fit exactly within the guidelines. This includes situations where a claimant’s exertional abilities fall between two levels, as well as where a claimant’s limitations are non-exertional (e.g., mental, sensory, or environmental limitations). In these cases, the Grids will merely provide a “framework” for decision-making, and full consideration must be given to all the relevant facts. A vocational expert will generally be called upon to give an opinion as to which jobs the specific claimant can perform.
Age affects a person’s ability to adapt to new work situations and adjust to competitive work environments. The Grids incorporate the age categories of Younger Individual (18-49); Approaching Advanced Age (50-54); Advanced Age (55-59); and Closely Approaching Retirement Age (60-64). At each increasing age level it becomes slightly easier to qualify as “disabled.”
Educational level determines what kinds of jobs a claimant may be able to perform. Generally, the Grids consider the highest grade a claimant completed, however evidence that a claimant’s education level is lower than grade of school completed can be considered. The Grids incorporate the following levels of education: Marginal (0-6 years); Limited (7-11 years); and High School or more (12 years or more).
Work experience is classified as unskilled, semiskilled, or skilled. The SSA considers unskilled work to be that which can be learned in 30 days or less. All other work is either semiskilled or skilled. The grids place semiskilled work in the same category as skilled work. The clearest indicator of skill level for a specific job is the Specific Vocational Preparation number (SVP). There are 9 SVP levels. Levels 1 and 2 represent unskilled work. Levels 3 and 4 are semiskilled. Levels 5-9 are skilled. The SVP level can be found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), published by the U.S. Department of Labor. The DOT provides a list of thousands of occupations, each accompanied by a numeric code, a brief description, and information pertaining to skills involved. An extensive list of occupations can be found on the DOT website ( www.occupationalinfo.org).
Transferable skills are those which a claimant acquired in past work that may be used in other occupations. To gain transferable skills, the claimant must have worked the job within the past 15 years, attained a certain level of earnings (approximately $1000 per month in 2010), and must have worked long enough to learn the relevant skills.
Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)
In addition to vocational factors, the exertional abilities of a claimant are crucial to determining placement on the Grids. Exertional abilities are assessed by looking at the 7 primary strength activities of work. These activities are sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. Assessing the abilities of a claimant allows them to be placed into one of the following RFC levels: Sedentary, Light, Medium, Heavy, and Very Heavy.
Sedentary Work requires sitting should total about 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. Periods of standing or walking should generally total no more than about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday. Lifting should be no more than 10 pounds at a time and only occasionally (meaning occurring from very little up to one-third of the time).
Light Work requires standing or walking off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. Light work may also involve sitting most of the time, but with some pushing and pulling of arm-hand or leg-foot controls which require greater exertion than in sedentary work. Lifting should be limited to no more than 20 pounds, with only frequent (meaning occurring from one-third to two-third of the time) lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. If someone can do light work, SSA determines that they can also do sedentary work unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods.
Medium Work requires standing or walking off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. Lifting should be no more than 50 pounds at a time, with only frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. If someone can do medium work, SSA determines that he or she also can do light and sedentary work.
Heavy Work requires standing or walking off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. Lifting should be no more than 100 pounds at a time, with only frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 50 pounds. If someone can do heavy work, SSA determines that he or she also can do medium, light, and sedentary work.
Very Heavy Work requires standing or walking off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday and lifting of objects weighing more than 100 pounds at a time. If someone can do very heavy work, SSA determines that they can also do all other forms of work.