What Are the Special Rules for Workers Over 50 Applying for Disability Benefits?

By Michelle Shvarts
Principal Attorney

Workers under the age of 65 who are unable to work due to certain qualifying disabilities may apply for Social Security disability benefits. Generally speaking, eligibility to receive disability benefits will depend on a workers’ inability to continue in the same line of work combined with the inability to adapt or adjust to a new type of work. Many workers do not know, however, that the regulations for Social Security disability are different for those workers over the age of 50. In fact, the rules even make it easier for a worker over the age of 50 to obtain Social Security disability benefits.

What Are the Special Rules for Workers Over 50 Applying for Disability Benefits?

Special regulations for workers over the age of 50 take into account factors such as age, level of education, work experience, transferable skills and other things relevant when considering whether the worker should qualify for disability benefits. What this really ends up meaning is that those workers over 50 can receive disability benefits even though they are able to still engage in some kinds of work.

The special rules applicable to workers over 50 are commonly referred to as the “grid rules” as they are laid out on tables that look like grids. The grid rules take into account the fact that older workers may find it more difficult to adjust to performing new lines of work. Additionally, the grid rules account for other factors such as a workers’ residual functional capacity (RFC). The RFC of a worker is the maximum level the worker can still perform despite his or her disability.

RFC requires an examination of an individual worker’s medical records. There are four RFC categories and each is defined by the amount a worker is required to lift in a particular job. The categories include:

  • Sedentary: no lifting above 10 lbs.
  • Light: infrequent lifting of 10 lbs. or less and occasional lifting of up to 20 lbs.
  • Medium: frequent lifting of up to 25 lbs. and occasional lifting of up to 50 lbs.
  • Heavy: frequent lifting of more than 50 lbs.

On the grid, workers are divided into age groups: 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, and over 60. The older the worker is on the grid, the more favorable the SSA will look at them in terms of weighing eligibility for disability benefits. It acts as a bit of a sliding scale where both ability to engage in previous employment and ability to adjust to some other type of work are the primary factors. Essentially, the grid system works to give older workers a break regarding qualifying for disability benefits. Older workers will often be permitted to collect disability benefits regardless of being able to perform things like sedentary or light labor. There are, of course, exceptions to this.

Disability Attorney

Are you over 50 years of age and need access to disability benefits? Talk to Disability Advocates about your options. We can answer your questions about disability as well as help you access these benefits. Contact us today.

About the Author
Ms. Shvarts is the managing attorney for Disability Advocates Group. She opened Disability Advocates Group to assist individuals who became disabled and unable to work to obtain the benefits they need and deserve.  Ms. Shvarts and the rest of the team at Disability Advocates Group are dedicated to assisting individuals obtain Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.