When people think of “rehabilitation” in the context of Workers’ Compensation benefits, they generally think of physical rehabilitation. However, when an injured worker is unable to return to their pre-injury job as a result of their workplace accident, they may be entitled to training and assistance finding a new job. The expenses associated with vocational rehabilitation are paid for by their employer’s Workers’ Compensation insurance carrier. The goal is to help the worker return to work as quickly as possible, to a job that is compatible with work restrictions imposed by their doctor. Pay in a new job should be as close as possible to pre-injury wages.
The specific vocational rehabilitation benefits an injured employee can receive are determined by the employee’s specific situation and severity of the injury, as well as statutory and regulatory limitations. The extent and type of training vary from state to state.
Generally, if you have been injured on-the-job in Pennsylvania, you should first communicate with your employer to determine whether they have an alternative job for you that is compatible with your injury restrictions. If you need additional help, you may then have a “vocational evaluation,” which may include testing, to determine what sort of work would best match your capabilities and interests. Then, a vocational rehabilitation counselor can help you develop a résumé to showcase your transferable skills. This counselor will recommend a return-to-work plan designed to help you find a new career path. Once you find a new vocation, you may be able to receive on-the-job training.
Other potentially covered services include interview training, job search assistance, ergonomics assessments, wage assessment evaluations, and education and tuition payments for retraining. If you suffer a disability, you may also be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Workers’ Compensation pays for up to two years of vocational rehabilitation. Even if you have been given permanent work restrictions, you can still seek gainful employment. Many of our clients take advantage of vocational rehabilitation to pay for school tuition, or to receive certification for careers in other fields.
The duties imposed on employers (or their Workers’ Compensation carriers) vary by state. In some states, employers must provide rehabilitation-counseling services to any employee who has an injury that results in 60 days of lost time from work. The offer must be made within five days after the 60th day. If an employee has suffered a back injury, they only need to be out of work for 30 days to trigger the employer’s duty to provide vocational rehabilitation counseling.
In other states, employers are required to offer services within 120 days if the injury resulted in a loss of “suitable gainful employment.” Some states also require employers to pay for tuition, living expenses, rooming, childcare, and travel expenses (in addition to regular wage loss benefits) while an employee is participating in vocational rehabilitation.
To determine your rights, it is imperative to speak to an experienced Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyer as soon as possible after your injury. Doing so can help you maximize your chances of recovering full compensation for your injury.
Once you return to a new job within your restrictions, your wage loss benefits will stop. As a result, some employers will try to use vocational rehabilitation as a tool to reduce or stop paying benefits for lost wages. There is often a conflict of interest between injured workers and the insurance company; the insurer will want the injured party to accept any job so that wage loss benefits can be terminated. However, you may want to go to school and embark on a new career. It is important to keep in mind that vocational counselors are hired by insurance companies for the sole purpose of stopping wage loss benefits.
Vocational counselors can even ignore work restrictions or suggest jobs that are far beneath your capabilities. If it is found that you did not cooperate with your vocational counselor, you could lose entitlement to wage loss benefits.
If you are an injured worker who is likely to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits for your injury and are unable to return to your regular job due to your disability, call the experienced Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers of Gross & Kenny, LLP. We strive to maximize our client’s Workers’ Compensation benefits. Call us at 267-589-0090 or 215-512-1500 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation today.