Grid Rules or Medical Vocational Guidelines

What Are The GRID Rules?

On this page, I will explain as best I can the grid rules also called the medical vocational guidelines. In some cases, the grid rules are easy to explain and know what you have to show to be found disabled under these rules. In other cases, particularly when an individual is under 50 years old, or performed past relevant work that was sedentary, or where there is significant nonexertional limitations it can be much more difficult to explain what you have to show to be found disabled. I strongly suggest as you read this you also have a copy of the grid rules chart to view for reference which can be found on my other website.
The grid rules are set up as a chart. Starting on the left the first column is the rule number. The second column is the age category which can be either a younger individual (18-49), closely approaching advanced age (50-54), and advanced age (55 and older). The next column is for education level which can be either marginal, limited, high school graduate or more does not provide direct entry into skilled work, high school grad or more does provide direct entry into skilled work. The next column addresses previous work experience. Here you will find none, unskilled, semiskilled, and skilled work. The last column is the decision that should be rendered for that particular rule which would be either disabled or not disabled.

How the Grid Rules Work

To illustrate how the grid rules work I will give an example of a person who would be found disabled in an SSD case as directed by the grid rules and then I will give an example of a person who would be found not disabled as directed by the grid rules. In our first example, the claimant is 50 years old (closely approaching advanced age), graduated high school, and all of her past relevant work was in the unskilled medium to heavy labor field. Social Security has determined that this individual has the residual functional capacity to do sedentary work. Now if you look at the chart for sedentary work in the grid rules and you match up the columns you will see that under rule 201.12 an individual who is closely approaching advanced age, has a high school education, unskilled past work directs a decision of disabled. In my second example, the only difference will be that the claimant is 35 years old and therefore considered a younger individual. If you look again at the sedentary chart in the grid rules you will see under rule 201.27 that a younger individual with a high school education and unskilled past relevant work will direct a finding of not disabled. I have used these two examples to give you a basic understanding of how the medical vocational guidelines work. As you can see, one small difference such as a person's age in our example can be the difference between a finding of disabled or not disabled under the grid rules. It becomes much more difficult to know how to show you are disabled if you do not fit neatly into one of these rules.

Skilled, Semiskilled Work and Transferable Skills

You will also notice some of these rules mention skilled and semiskilled work. Explaining what skilled and semiskilled work is and whether or not these skills are transferable is extremely difficult to explain. I will do my best but this is a difficult concept to understand. If a claimant had past relevant work that was skilled or semiskilled then there is an issue as to whether or not these skills are transferable to other types of work. SSR 83-11 states “finding of fact requires identification of the work skills, examples of specific skilled or semiskilled occupations within the person’s RFC to which he or she can transfer skills (if any), and a statement of the incidence of such jobs in the region in which the person lives or in several regions of the country.”  When there is an issue of trnferability of skills from previous work to other work in a Social Security Disability case you will most times find a Vocational expert is used to determine what skills an individual may have aquired from their previous work and if they are transferable to other jobs the claimant's RFC would allow.

So what happens if a claimant's RFC is somewhere between two different rules one which would direct a finding of disabled and the other which would direct a finding of not disabled? The answer is it depends.  SSR-83-12 explains: “An exertional capacity that is only slightly reduced in terms of the regulatory criteria could indicate a sufficient remaining occupational base to satisfy the minimal requirements for a finding of ‘Not disabled.’” it continues “On the other hand, if the exertional capacity is significantly reduced in terms of the regulatory definition, it could indicate little more than the occupational base for the lower rule and could justify a finding of “Disabled.””  When this situation arrises you often see the use of a vocational expert.

How Do Grid Rules Apply if There is Only Nonexertional Limitations?

The medical vocational guidelines or grid rules can be very helpful in deciding SSDI and SSI cases where there is purely exertional limitations. When there is only nonexertional limitations the grid rules do not apply so you would have to be able to show that the nonexertional limitations would essentially prevent almost any type of work particularly unskilled work. If you are under 50 years old chances are if you have exertional and nonexertional limitations you will have to show you cannot even do simple unskilled sedentary work. There is one exception to this and that is if you are between the ages of 45 and 49 and do not speak or understand English. You can look at the grid rules in the sedentary section to see the rule I am referring to. I do want to warn people however that if you are reading this but claim to Social Security that you do not speak or understand English then there is a good chance the ALJ will be able to figure out that you do understand English and they will hold this against you.