How Does Vocational Rehabilitation in Workers’ Compensation Really Work?

Posted on Monday, January 29th, 2018 at 3:03 pm    

If your physicians make clear that you are unable to perform you prior job because of permanent physical or emotional limitations, (i.e. you are placed on permanent Light Duty),  if you are under an Award in Virginia or an Accepted Claim in North Carolina, AND your employer is not willing or is unable to accommodate your restrictions, the employer’s insurance company will often seek to get you some employment that you can do. There are basically two ways to get you to work with restrictions:

  • The first way is to find you a job that meets your physical restrictions.
  • The second way is to retrain you and/or reeducate you so that you can do different work.

Initially, the employer will assign a vocational rehabilitation counselor to your case. Even though they may be nice, the vocational counselor is often not your friend. He or she is working for the employer and trying to get you any job so the insurance company doesn’t have to continue paying North Carolina or Virginia’s worker’s compensation benefits. More importantly, the vocational rehab counselor will schedule numerous meetings and job leads for you to attend and follow up on. If you fail to “jump through their hoops,” particularly in Virginia, then you will likely be cut off of your benefits for failure to comply with the vocational rehabilitation plan.

Some key considerations when meeting the vocational counselor

The first step is to review your rights with an experienced worker’s compensation who can inform you about:

  • Where the meetings with the counselor should take place. Ideally, they should be at a neutral office and not your home. Public places like libraries and restaurants are sample neutral locations.
  • Who can be present at the meetings. If possible, your lawyer should meet the counselor and be present at the first meeting, usually held at your attorney’s office.
  • Which jobs the vocational counselor can send you to and which ones he/she can’t. Some counselors may send you to jobs that the counselor knows you can’t do because of your work limitations. This is not allowed under the Commission Guidelines in both Virginia and North Carolina. The jobs are supposed to be “pre-screened” by the counselor and within your physical restrictions set forth by your doctor.  If it is clear after you contact the employer or simply on the face of the job description that it falls outside your physical restrictions, you need to bring this to the attention of the counselor—and your attorney.
  • Your duty to actively look for work.  The counselor will require you to follow up on all job leads that she provides to you. You should NOT apply for any jobs on your own outside of those job leads, if you are in active consultation with an insurance company vocational rehab counselor. You should document everything you are doing to look for work, follow her directions, and attend the meetings with the counselor so it’s crystal clear that you are cooperating. If you fail to comply with her legitimate requests and suggestions, the counselor will inform the employer’s carrier. The carrier may then seek to suspend terminate your benefits because you are not being cooperative.
  • Your duty to follow through with the counselor’s recommendations and suggestions. In addition to sending you to interviews for jobs, the counselor will keep track of details such as whether you are on time for meetings and whether you return phone calls and emails. Again, if the counselor can demonstrate you’re not cooperating, your benefits can be suspended or terminated. If benefits are suspended, it can be difficult to reinstate them.
  • Your right to suitable work. In general, both North Carolina and Virginia require that the work you do meet your job restrictions and be work that you are skilled to do. If you do not have the requisite skills, then re-training or schooling may be required.  
  • Your requirement to go to job interviews. It’s best to be safe and go to job interviews even if it’s questionable whether the job is suitable. There usually is not enough time to make changes before you are given the job leads. It could be that the prospective employer may wish to accommodate your restrictions. But if the counselor is sending you on too many bad job interviews, where you are continually being told your restrictions disqualify you from the job, or the job has nothing to do with you still set, then you should review your rights with a trusted work injury attorney who will request that the counselor follow the laws or be replaced. Once again, the vocational rehab counselor is supposed to be “pre-screening” the jobs as suitable for you.

Vocational retraining for when there just aren’t suitable jobs

When it becomes certain that the injured employee simply isn’t going to find a suitable job that meets the work restrictions, then retraining and education is the next likely step. Many employer insurance companies still prefer to pay for retraining rather than to pay for extended work loss wages. Sometimes, this is determined after the first meeting with the vocational rehab counselor.

Retraining usually means one or more of the following:

  • Getting a GED certificate or finishing high school
  • Learning how to read and write
  • Learning a new trade or set of skills such as computer classes
  • Learning how to prepare a resume
  • Learning how to write a cover letter
  • Learning where to look, online and offline for work

Retraining can also mean counseling for people with learning disabilities, blindness, deafness, or mental illness.

Many manual workers can be retrained. Retraining isn’t just limited to high school. Some college education and same trade school education may also be available.  Of course, any costs must be borne by the employer.

The employer’s insurance company should pay for:

  • The cost of tuition, fees, and books
  • Ongoing temporary total disability payments while the worker is being retrained

A vocational rehabilitation counselor will also be assigned to work with you. A good counselor will help your choose training that will help you find a job in your location. A good counselor will also monitor your work not just to see if you taking and passing the classes – but also to review how you are doing and if you need any additional assistance. A bad counselor—which unfortunately is the majority of them— will look to see if you’re missing meetings or performing poorly so he/she can say you’re not cooperating and get you cut off of benefits.

Workers who are fully disabled or who can’t be retrained because of age or other problems shouldn’t be forced to go through a re-education process. If there’s no point to retraining – meaning that completing your studies won’t lead to suitable work, then you should get your benefits on the basis of a total disability.

Your Virginia or North Carolina worker’s compensation attorney can explain when retraining isn’t worth the effort, i.e. would be futile, and how you should proceed. For example, the lawyer may work with a vocational expert who can certify that the retraining simply won’t lead to a real job – given your current work limitations and the known job market in your locale.

On the other hand, if retraining can help and the employer’s insurance company refuses to pay for it, an experienced work injury lawyer will file the proper paperwork and hearing request to force the employer to pay for your vocational rehabilitation.

Understand if vocational rehabilitation is a viable option for you

North Carolina and Virginia lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers for almost thirty years. He has helped thousands of employees get the lost wages they deserve and get their medical bills paid. He has also fought and prevailed against bad vocational rehabilitation counselors who recommend inappropriate jobs as a means to attempt to get the worker cut off.  The goal is always to work towards what is hopefully a good settlement his clients’ work injury case and a chance at a new life and a decent job. For help now, please call (888) 694-1671 or complete my contact form.