Going Through Vocational Rehabilitation
After a serious workplace accident, a worker may be partially disabled, suffering from severe back pain for instance, and unable therefore to return to his or her former position. Under North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act, the employer’s insurance carrier has the option to engage a vocational rehabilitation professional who is trained to assist the impaired worker in finding suitable employment.
The goal, of course, is to help you find work that you are physically and mentally able to execute, to make sure you are back earning wages while the insurance carrier can stop paying your benefits. It should be a win-win situation.
Things often don’t work out that way. The job opportunities aren’t real, and you may be under increased pressure to sign for employment in a job you will not keep longer than a few months. Refusing “suitable work”, on the other hand, may cost you your benefits. What are you supposed to do?
Don’t meet with a vocational rehabilitation counselor without a workers’ comp lawyer at your side.
The Industrial Commission (IC) allows the first meeting to take place at your attorney’s office. At this meeting, the counselor will soon find out that he or she has to play by the rules set up by the Industrial Commission, and your lawyer will make sure that you fully cooperate with the counselor to find a new job. Both aspects are essential:
- Play by the rules: The workers’ comp insurance carrier has to play by the rules. You have a right to know these rules and to be supplied with a copy of the rules. You have a right to review and amend your job description. You have a duty to go to the job interviews, but you should make sure you have a signed statement for each interview you went to. If the interviews the counselor sends you has no relation with your job description and are useless, you should still go and talk to your lawyer about it in order to build a case against the counselor.
- Get suitable work: You should not make any statements that can be used against you, like setting conditions to accept or even consider a job. The IC can suspend your benefits if they have a case that shows you refuse to cooperate. Once benefits have been suspended, it is awfully difficult to get them reinstated. On the other hand, you should also avoid optimistic statements, pretending that you can handle a job when you are unsure, or without knowing and testing the work that is asked from you. You are likely to be under pressure to say that you can handle tools, or lift weight, or do accounting or administrative work that you lost or don’t have the ability to perform on a daily basis. Do not accept fake jobs that were created to accommodate you and the employer would never hire someone to do, like filing paper or checking owners’ manual errors.
The vocational rehabilitation process is truly where your future is being decided. You do not want to blow your chances and risk financial ruin. Rules are complex, and the participants do not always play fair. You will need an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to guide you through the process.
If you have been the victim of a workplace accident, contact Joe Miller Law in Elizabeth City, where attorney Joseph Miller, Esq has been representing injured North Carolina workers for over 20 years. Call us locally 757-455-8889 or toll-free 888-694-1674 or send us an e-mail for a FREE, no commitment discussion of your case.