Social Security Evaluates Capability to Do Other Work than One’s Prior Work
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How Social Security Evaluates Capability to Do Other Work than One’s Prior Work

by Melvin Cook

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In disability cases, Social Security uses a five-step process for determining if an applicant is disabled. In the case of a person with one or more severe medical impairments who cannot do their prior work, Social Security looks at whether or not the person can make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.

To assist in this determination, Social Security has enacted certain rules in Appendix 2 of Subpart P of Part 4 of the Code of Federal Regulations (whew, that’s a mouthful). These are also known as the GRID rules, presumably because they are laid out in a grid format with columns and rows.

In these rules, the claimant’s profile is compared with that of the pertinent rule. The rules look at the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) – which I have posted about previously – their age, education and work experience. RFC is defined as the maximum amount of work-like activities a person can do despite his or her medical impairments. Where the findings from each factor coincide with the criteria for the corresponding factor in a rule, that rule applies and directs a decision of “disabled” or “not disabled.” In other words, the adjudicator must determine the individual’s RFC and their vocational profile (age, education and work experience) and compare these findings to the GRID rules to see if one of the rules applies.

In the GRID rules, work in the national economy is defined in terms of its exertional requirements. The work categories are sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy. The exertional requirements of a job are its primary strength demands; namely, sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling.

The GRID rules do not consider nonexertional limitations. These are limitations other than the primary strength demands of a job. They can be mental impairments, manipulative limitations, environmental limitations, visual or hearing limitations, etc. In other words, the GRID rules will apply only if a person’s RFC contains only limitations in the strength demands of a job; i.e., the areas of sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling.

RFC determines a work capability sufficient to perform all or substantially all of the work activities within a given level – i.e., sedentary, light or medium. Typically, if a person can perform substantially all of the activities within a given level, they are also capable of performing work at lower levels.

RFC alone never establishes the capacity for semi-skilled or skilled work. This is determined by the skills a person has acquired from experience or recent education. Whether or not these skills are transferable to work other than that which the person has done in the past is a question that must be determined by the adjudicator.

The RFC at a certain level determines the occupational base. When the GRID rules were enacted, administrative notice was taken of a certain number of occupations within each level of exertion. So, for example, there were found to be about 200 sedentary occupations, 1,600 sedentary and light occupations, and 2,500 sedentary, light and medium occupations. Administrative notice means that Social Security relied on various authoritative publications to determine the approximate number of occupations at each level of exertion.

The issue of whether a person can adjust to such other work involves looking at the interaction of their RFC with their vocation profile; i.e., age, education and work experience.

The ages of 45, 50, 55, and 60 may be critical to a decision. This means that special rules may apply for these age categories. Obviously, it becomes more difficult to adjust to different kinds of work the older one gets. The age categories are not meant to be applied mechanically, however. Judgment must be used in borderline situations.

Education and work experience are also factors that are considered in the GRID rules. The less education a person has, the more limited might be their vocational opportunities given their medical impairments. Work experience is also considered, as a person might acquire considerable skills through on the job experience. Whether or not such skills are transferable to other work when a person is incapable of performing their prior work is an issue that needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

For more on what the GRIDs look like, it may be helpful to look at the website: (last visited October 2, 2014).

This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.

Contact a Salt Lake City Attorney Committed to Protecting Your Rights

When it comes the family law and social security disability, each client and case is different. It is also important to select an attorney with the experience, skills and professionalism required to address your legal issues. To learn more, contact the Salt Lake City law offices of Melvin A. Cook and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.

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