How SSA Uses Medical-Vocational Guidelines (“Grids”) to Determine Disability

By Disability Group

At Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation process, it becomes clear that that the claimant cannot return to his/her past employment. The new question becomes, “Can the claimant do any job readily available in the economy?” The Social Security Administration (SSA) must prove that such a job exists in order to deny benefits.


The ‘Grids”:

To prove jobs exist for persons with disabilities, the SSA promulgated regulations known as the Medical-Vocational Guidelines. The guidelines contain 3 charts. When a claimant’s work factors and RFC match the information within the grid, a conclusive finding of “disabled” or “not disabled” can be drawn.

Several factors are considered including:

  1. Age
  2.  education
  3.  work history
  4.  Residual Functional Capacity    (RFC)                                                                      

Not Applicable where:

The grids do not apply in cases where the claimant’s specific work profile does not fit within the guidelines.  This occurs when a claimant’s specific abilities fall between two levels. In these cases, the grids merely provide a “framework” and full consideration will be given to case specific facts.  A vocational expert (VE) will usually be asked to give an opinion in this situation.


A Closer Look:   

  • Age:            

Older age is an adverse factor.  It affects an individual’s ability to adapt to a new work situation and work with others in a competitive environment.  4 categories  are listed on the Grid for age including:

  1. Younger Individual (18-49);
  2. Approaching Advanced Age (50-54);
  3. Advanced Age (55-59); and
  4. Closely Approaching Retirement Age (60-64)
  • Education:

The highest grade a claimant completed determines the education level.   Evidence will also be considered that a claimant’s education level is lower than the last grade completed.  The grids incorporate the following levels of education:

  1. Marginal (0-6 years);
  2. Limited (7-11 years); and
  3.  High School or more (12 years or more)
  • Work:

Work is classified in 3 areas.   

  1. Unskilled (learned in 30 days or less)
  2. Semiskilled (months)  
  3. Skilled (all other)
  • Residual Functional Capacity (RFC):

RFC is a fancy way of measuring a person’s abilities given their limitations.   7 primary strength activities of work are weighed including sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling. The exertion levels are as follows:

  1. Sedentary Work (deskbound)  
  2. Light Work
  3. Medium Work
  4. Heavy Work
  5. Very Heavy Work



Other Factors Considered:  

  • Transferability:

The transferability of skills is crucial for determining where a claimant falls on the grid.  Transferable skills are those skills a claimant acquired in past work that may be used in other jobs.  Past jobs must:

  1. Be within a15 year time frame
  2. Meet SGA earnings requirements, and
  3. Have lasted long enough for the individual to learn relevant skills


  • DOT

To assess skill levels VE’s look to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). The DOT provides a list of occupations with a numeric code, brief description, and list of skills involved.  An extensive list of occupations can be found on the DOT website (