North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Rights

Posted on Friday, July 15th, 2016 at 2:00 pm    

Workers who are injured at work or suffer a work related illness are entitled to more than just a percentage of lost wages. They are entitled to more than payment of surgery, doctor, and prescription pages. They are even entitled to more than occupational therapy. If an employee is hurt and cannot work at his/her prior job, he or she has the right to be retrained so that he/she can return earn a comparable living to the prior job. Retraining can mean learning new work skills and new educational skills.

At the Law Office of Joe Miller, Esq. our legal team understands how upsetting it can be to be out of work. The law firm has more than 25 years of experience helping workers understand all of their rights and demanding the all benefits be paid – especially when the work injury is so severe that the old job cannot be done. Attorney Joe Miller has helped thousands of clients get justice for work injuries. He is ready to help you understand and fight for all of your options.

Why Vocational Rehabilitation is ordered in North Carolina

Vocational rehabilitation is likely to be recommended if your physician releases you to light-duty employment or to work but with restrictions and the claim is already accepted and your pre-injury job will not accept you in a light duty position. If you do return to work but at a lower pay than before your injuries began, you should get 2/3rds of the difference between pre-injury and post-injury pay.

Vocational rehabilitation is touted by the employers and insurance companies as a benefit to the employee by helping him/her earn a livelihood. But unfortunately, more often than not, it is simply a tool used by the workers comp insurance company to either reduce or eliminate their responsibility to pay benefits to the injured worker.

There are many vocational rehabilitation issues. Some of the most common ones, that are detailed in the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Statute include:

  • The employer can require that the employee undergo a one-time assessment of vocational skills with some exceptions.
  • The employee can request vocational rehabilitation if he/she hasn’t returned to the job and is getting weekly benefits.
  • Rehabilitation may include education and retraining in a North Carolina community college or university. The retraining must be reasonably likely to “substantially increase the employee’s wage‑earning capacity following completion of the education or retraining program.”
  • Generally, the employer chooses the vocational rehabilitation service – one that is approved by the state Industrial Commission. For good cause, an employee (through his/her attorney) can request that another professional service be provided.

There are some exceptions which should be reviewed with an experienced North Carolina work injury lawyer.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services Defined

Proper vocational rehab services for injured workers include a vocational assessment which analyzes the employee’s current skill and also the skills that could be reasonably obtained with proper training. The services should also include an overall plan. The aim of the plan should be to substantially increase the amount of wages the employee can earn.

Some factors that the vocational rehabilitation should also consider are the worker’s medical limitations and the proper sequence of vocational services. A detailed vocational rehabilitation plan should be put in writing so both the employer and employee can understand the expectations and the services that will be required.

The plan should take into account the worker’s education, skills, aptitudes, and experience.

Common Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Typical services to help retrain the worker and get him/her ready for a new job include:

  • Workshops
  • Community supported training.
  • Job analysis
  • Job modification,
  • Job development,
  • Placement skills,
  • A survey of the current labor market
  • Vocational tests
  • Psychometric testing
  • A review of transferrable and non-transferrable skills
  • Work counseling
  • Job seeking training
  • On-the-job training
  • Education

Vocational rehabilitation often includes learning the latest technologies. It can also include learning to use devices and treatments that can help the worker adjust to any medical problems or difficulties.

Changes to the Vocational Plan

The parties can agree to modify or terminate the plan – if both sides agree or Commission enters an order. The best scenario is usually for the employee to return to work at the same company. But sometimes, the worker will need to start work with another company.

If you think you are being treated unfairly by the employer or vocational rehabilitation service or professional, it is wise to consult an experienced North Carolina Workers’ Compensation attorney before considering quitting or failing to comply. If you unjustifiably fail to comply with the vocational rehab counselor, you could lose your workers comp benefits.

You should be on the lookout for “sharp practices” by the vocational rehab counselor such as making you jump through absurd and ridiculous hoops, receiving inadequate notice of meetings, and the failing of the counselor to pre-screen jobs to make sure they are within the physical restrictions set forth by your treating doctor.

The same need to consult with a skilled lawyer holds true if you think the plan is fair but circumstances prevent you from meeting the terms. Again, employees who fail to comply with the vocational rehabilitation plan may lose their right to compensation unless the Industrial Commission finds the refusal to cooperate was justified.

Make the Call to an Experienced North Carolina Work Injury Lawyer Today

Vocational rehabilitation can be used as both a sword and a shield. Sometimes the employer uses it as a means to reduce their obligation to pay. Other times, you may be able to take advantage of the law surrounding vocational rehab to improve your ability to earn money or receive additional education—all at the expense of the workers comp insurance carrier. For aggressive advocacy and caring counsel, please phone the Work Injury Center SM at Joe Miller Law at 888-694-1671 and ask for me, Joe Miller, or email me at You can also complete my online contact form.