Social Security often uses Vocational Experts (VEs) and Vocational Specialists (VSs) to assist in determining occupational aspects of a disability case.
Social Security takes judicial notice of reliable, authoritative publications regarding occupations in the United States. Among these publications is the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), and its companion volume, Selected Occupational Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Revised Dictionary of Occupational Titles (SCO).
In making disability decisions, Social Security relies on the DOT and SCO for information about the requirements of jobs in the national economy.
Vocational sources often assist an adjudicator in providing information about whether there are any jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that an individual with a certain vocational profile and medical limitations could do.
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 00-4p provides guidance to adjudicators on how to handle conflicts between the DOT and SCO and evidence provided by VEs and VSs.
Occupational information given by VEs and VSs should be generally consistent with the DOT. At the hearing level, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) must ask the vocational expert on the record if there are any inconsistencies between his or her testimony and the DOT. If there are inconsistencies, the adjudicator then elicits an answer from the vocational expert on the nature of the inconsistency, and why her testimony differs from the DOT.
In such a situation, neither the DOT nor the vocational expert’s testimony automatically trumps the other. Rather, the ALJ must determine if the vocational expert gave a reasonable explanation for his or her testimony differing from the DOT and decide which information is most reliable.
However, a VE’s testimony cannot be accepted if it differs from social security’s regulations.
For example, social security has established definitions for categories of work, including sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy. Although there may be reasons to classify work differently than the DOT, a VE’s testimony cannot be accepted if it changes the definitions of these categories.
Each job has a particular skill level, known as the specific vocational time (SVP). Any occupation that takes more than 30 days to learn is above the unskilled level. Unskilled work corresponds to an SVP of 1-2, semi-skilled work corresponds to an SVP of 3-4, and skilled work corresponds to an SVP of 5-9 in the DOT. Although there may be a reason to characterize the SVP of a particular occupation differently than the DOT, a VE’s testimony cannot contradict the definition of SVP. For example, a VE’s testimony cannot be relied upon to establish that unskilled work is sufficiently complex that it will take more than 30 days to learn.
Social Security has specific rules regarding transferability of job skills. For example, a VE’s testimony cannot be relied upon to establish that skills are transferable to unskilled work. It may not be relied upon to establish that skills may be transferred to an occupation with a higher skill level. Also, an individual does not gain skills that could be transferred to other work by doing unskilled work.
An adjudicator has an affirmative responsibility to resolve any conflicts that exist between VE testimony and the DOT.
Occupational and vocational issues are very important in disability cases. They can be complex for the average layperson and this may be a particularly strong reason to consider securing the services of an attorney to assist with a social security disability case.
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.