I-2-6-74.Testimony of a Vocational Expert

Last Update: 12/12/13 (Transmittal I-2-101)


A. Prehearing Actions

When an administrative law judge (ALJ) determines that the testimony of a vocational expert (VE) is needed at the hearing, the ALJ must:

  • have no substantive contact related to the merits of the case with the VE except at the hearing or in writing, and any such writing will be made an exhibit; and

  • request that the VE examine any pertinent evidence received between the time the VE completed the case study and the time of the hearing.

For instructions on obtaining testimony or written opinion from a VE, see the Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual, sections I-2-5-48 through I-2-5-61.

Assisting hearing office (HO) staff will:

  • send copies of any correspondence between the ALJ and the VE to the claimant and make such correspondence an exhibit; and

  • if the VE is appearing via telephone, contact the VE before the hearing to confirm the telephone number to be used at the hearing.


When a VE is scheduled to testify at a hearing, the HO staff must notify the claimant of this appearance in the “REMARKS” section of the Notice of Hearing. The Notice of Hearing must also specify the manner in which the VE will appear.

B. Conduct of the Hearing

At the hearing, the ALJ must advise the claimant of the reason for the VE's presence and explain the procedures to be followed.

The VE may attend the entire hearing, but this is not required. If the VE was not present to hear pertinent testimony, such as testimony regarding past relevant work or educational background, the ALJ will summarize the testimony for the VE on the record.

After administering the oath or affirmation, the ALJ must:

  • “qualify” the VE by eliciting information regarding his or her impartiality, expertise, and professional qualifications;

  • ask the claimant and the representative whether they have any objections to the VE testifying; and

  • rule on any objection. The ALJ's ruling may be on the record or in narrative form that is made an exhibit. The ALJ may also address the ruling in the body of his or her decision.

C. Questioning the VE

The ALJ will ask the VE questions designed to elicit clear and complete information. The claimant and the representative have the right to question the VE fully on any pertinent matter within the VE's area of expertise. However, the ALJ will determine when they may exercise this right and whether questions asked or answers given are appropriate. For example:

  • If the VE's replies are ambiguous or overly technical, the ALJ will follow up with more specific questions in order to obtain a response that is understandable to the average person.

  • The ALJ will not permit the VE to respond to questions on medical matters or to draw conclusions not within the VE's authority, e.g., the VE may not provide opinions regarding the claimant's residual functional capacity or the resolution of ultimate issues of fact or law.

  • The ALJ will not ask or allow the VE to conduct any type of vocational examination of the claimant during the hearing.

D. Hypothetical Questions

The ALJ may use hypothetical questions to elicit the VE's opinion about the availability of jobs that an individual could perform given certain factual situations.

E. Conflicts with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles

Before the ALJ may rely on a VE's testimony to support a disability decision, the ALJ must inquire on the record whether there are any conflicts between occupational evidence the VE provided and information contained 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 U. S. Department of Labor. The ALJ must identify and obtain a reasonable explanation for any such conflict. The ALJ also must explain in the decision how any identified conflict has been resolved. See Social Security Ruling 00-4p.