Effective/Publication Date: 12/4/00

POLICY INTERPRETATION RULING

SSR 00-4p: TITLES II AND XVI: USE OF VOCATIONAL EXPERT AND VOCATIONAL SPECIALIST EVIDENCE, AND OTHER RELIABLE OCCUPATIONAL INFORMATION IN DISABILITY DECISIONS

PURPOSE:

This Ruling clarifies our standards for the use of vocational experts (VEs) who provide evidence at hearings before administrative law judges (ALJs), vocational specialists (VSs) who provide evidence to disability determination services (DDS) adjudicators, and other reliable sources of occupational information in the evaluation of disability claims. In particular, this ruling emphasizes that before relying on VE or VS evidence to support a disability determination or decision, our adjudicators must:

  • Identify and obtain a reasonable explanation for any conflicts between occupational evidence provided by VEs or VSs and information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), including its companion publication, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Revised Dictionary of Occupational Titles (SCO), published by the Department of Labor, and
  • Explain in the determination or decision how any conflict that has been identified was resolved.

CITATIONS (AUTHORITY):

Sections 216(i), 223(d)(2)(A), and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act, as amended;
20 CFR Part 404, sections 404.1566-404.1569, 20 CFR Part 404, subpart P, appendix 2, ยง 200.00(b), and 20 CFR Part 416, sections 416.966-416.969.

PERTINENT HISTORY:

To determine whether an individual applying for disability benefits (except for a child applying for Supplement Security Income) is disabled, we follow a 5-step sequential evaluation process as follows:

  1. Is the individual engaging in substantial gainful activity? If the individual is working and the work is substantial gainful activity, we find that he or she is not disabled.
  2. Does the individual have an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe? If the individual does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe, we will find that he or she is not disabled. If the individual has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe, we proceed to step 3 of the sequence.
  3. Does the individual's impairment(s) meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in appendix 1 of subpart P of part 404 of our regulations? If so, we find that he or she is disabled. If not, we proceed to step 4 of the sequence.
  4. Does the individual's impairment(s) prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work (PRW), considering his or her residual functional capacity (RFC)? If not, we find that he or she is not disabled. If so, we proceed to step 5 of the sequence.
  5. Does the individual's impairment(s) prevent him or her from performing other work that exists in the national economy, considering his or her RFC together with the "vocational factors" of age, education, and work experience? If so, we find that the individual is disabled. If not, we find that he or she is not disabled.

The regulations at 20 CFR 404.1566(d) and 416.966(d) provide that we will take administrative notice of "reliable job information" available from various publications, including the DOT. In addition, as provided in 20 CFR 404.1566(e) and 416.966(e), we use VEs and VSs as sources of occupational evidence in certain cases. Questions have arisen about how we ensure that conflicts between occupational evidence provided by a VE or a VS and information in the DOT (including its companion publication, the SCO) are resolved. Therefore, we are issuing this ruling to clarify our standards for identifying and resolving such conflicts.

POLICY INTERPRETATION:

Using Occupational Information at Steps 4 and 5

In making disability determinations, we rely primarily on the DOT (including its companion publication, the SCO) for information about the requirements of work in the national economy. We use these publications at steps 4 and 5 of the sequential evaluation process. We may also use VEs and VSs at these steps to resolve complex vocational issues.[1] We most often use VEs to provide evidence at a hearing before an ALJ. At the initial and reconsideration steps of the administrative review process, adjudicators in the DDSs may rely on VSs for additional guidance. See, for example, SSRs 82-41, 83-12, 83-14, and 85-15.

Resolving Conflicts in Occupational Information

Occupational evidence provided by a VE or VS generally should be consistent with the occupational information supplied by the DOT. When there is an apparent unresolved conflict between VE or VS evidence and the DOT, the adjudicator must elicit a reasonable explanation for the conflict before relying on the VE or VS evidence to support a determination or decision about whether the claimant is disabled. At the hearings level, as part of the adjudicator's duty to fully develop the record, the adjudicator will inquire, on the record, as to whether or not there is such consistency.

Neither the DOT nor the VE or VS evidence automatically "trumps" when there is a conflict. The adjudicator must resolve the conflict by determining if the explanation given by the VE or VS is reasonable and provides a basis for relying on the VE or VS testimony rather than on the DOT information.

Reasonable Explanations for Conflicts (or Apparent Conflicts) in Occupational Information

Reasonable explanations for such conflicts, which may provide a basis for relying on the evidence from the VE or VS, rather than the DOT information, include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Evidence from VEs or VSs can include information not listed in the DOT. The DOT contains information about most, but not all, occupations. The DOT's occupational definitions are the result of comprehensive studies of how similar jobs are performed in different workplaces. The term "occupation," as used in the DOT, refers to the collective description of those jobs. Each occupation represents numerous jobs. Information about a particular job's requirements or about occupations not listed in the DOT may be available in other reliable publications, information obtained directly from employers, or from a VE's or VS's experience in job placement or career counseling.
  • The DOT lists maximum requirements of occupations as generally performed, not the range of requirements of a particular job as it is performed in specific settings. A VE, VS, or other reliable source of occupational information may be able to provide more specific information about jobs or occupations than the DOT.

Evidence That Conflicts With SSA Policy

SSA adjudicators may not rely on evidence provided by a VE, VS, or other reliable source of occupational information if that evidence is based on underlying assumptions or definitions that are inconsistent with our regulatory policies or definitions. For example:

  • Exertional Level

    We classify jobs as sedentary, light, medium, heavy and very heavy (20 CFR 404.1567 and 416.967). These terms have the same meaning as they have in the exertional classifications noted in the DOT.

    Although there may be a reason for classifying the exertional demands of an occupation (as generally performed) differently than the DOT (e.g., based on other reliable occupational information), the regulatory definitions of exertional levels are controlling. For example, if all available evidence (including VE testimony) establishes that the exertional demands of an occupation meet the regulatory definition of "medium" work (20 CFR 404.1567 and 416.967), the adjudicator may not rely on VE testimony that the occupation is "light" work.

  • Skill Level

    A skill is knowledge of a work activity that requires the exercise of significant judgment that goes beyond the carrying out of simple job duties and is acquired through performance of an occupation that is above the unskilled level (requires more than 30 days to learn). (See SSR 82-41.) Skills are acquired in PRW and may also be learned in recent education that provides for direct entry into skilled work.

    The DOT lists a specific vocational preparation (SVP) time for each described occupation. Using the skill level definitions in 20 CFR 404.1568 and 416.968, 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 for classifying an occupation's skill level differently than in the DOT, the regulatory definitions of skill levels are controlling. For example, VE or VS evidence may not be relied upon to establish that unskilled work involves complex duties that take many months to learn, because that is inconsistent with the regulatory definition of unskilled work. See 20 CFR 404.1568 and 416.968.

  • Transferability of Skills

    Evidence from a VE, VS, or other reliable source of occupational information cannot be inconsistent with SSA policy on transferability of skills. For example, an individual does not gain skills that could potentially transfer to other work by performing unskilled work. Likewise, an individual cannot transfer skills to unskilled work or to work involving a greater level of skill than the work from which the individual acquired those skills. See SSR 82-41.

The Responsibility To Ask About Conflicts

When a VE or VS provides evidence about the requirements of a job or occupation, the adjudicator has an affirmative responsibility to ask about any possible conflict between that VE or VS evidence and information provided in the DOT. In these situations, the adjudicator will:

  • Ask the VE or VS if the evidence he or she has provided conflicts with information provided in the DOT; and
  • If the VE's or VS's evidence appears to conflict with the DOT, the adjudicator will obtain a reasonable explanation for the apparent conflict.

Explaining the Resolution

When vocational evidence provided by a VE or VS is not consistent with information in the DOT, the adjudicator must resolve this conflict before relying on the VE or VS evidence to support a determination or decision that the individual is or is not disabled. The adjudicator will explain in the determination or decision how he or she resolved the conflict. The adjudicator must explain the resolution of the conflict irrespective of how the conflict was identified.

EFFECTIVE DATE:

This Ruling is effective on the date of its publication in the Federal Register. The clarified standard stated in this ruling with respect to inquiring about possible conflicts applies on the effective date of the ruling to all claims for disability benefits in which a hearing before an ALJ has not yet been held, or that is pending a hearing before an ALJ on remand. The clarified standard on resolving identified conflicts applies to all claims for disability or blindness benefits on the effective date of the ruling.

CROSS-REFERENCES:

SSR 82-41, "Titles II and XVI: Work Skills and Their Transferability as Intended by the Expanded Vocational Factors Regulations Effective February 26, 1979," SSR 82-61, "Titles II and XVI: Past Relevant Work--The Particular Job or the Occupation as Generally Performed," SSR 82-62, "Titles II and XVI: A Disability Claimant's Capacity to Do Past Relevant Work, In General," SSR 83-10, "Titles II and XVI: Determining Capability to Do Other Work--The Medical-Vocational Rules of Appendix 2," SSR 83-12, "Titles II and XVI: Capability to Do Other Work--The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for Evaluating Exertional Limitations Within a Range of Work or Between Ranges of Work," SSR 83-14, "Titles II and XVI: Capability to do Other Work--The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for Evaluating a Combination of Exertional and Nonexertional Impairments," and SSR 85-15, "Titles II and XVI: Capability to Do Other Work--The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for Evaluating Solely Nonexertional Impairments";
AR 90-3(4), 837 F.2d 635 (4th Cir. 1987)-Use of Vocational Experts or Other Vocational Specialist in Determining Whether a Claimant Can Perform Past Relevant Work-Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act;
Program Operations Manual System, Part 04, sections DI 25001.001, DI 25005.001, DI 25020.001-DI 25020.015, and DI 25025.001- DI 25025.005.


[1] In accordance with Acquiescence Ruling 90-3(4), we do not use VEs at step 4 of the sequential evaluation process in the Fourth Circuit.


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