What is Vocational Rehabilitation?

Have you heard your workers’ compensation adjuster mention vocational rehabilitation? Maybe your doctor mentioned the need for vocational rehabilitation following your work-related injury? What exactly are these people referring to?
Vocational rehabilitation usually entails looking for new employment and/or retraining after having been separated from prior employment. These separations from employment can be caused by many reasons, to include work injuries, occupational diseases, reductions in force, plant closings, layoffs, and terminations. In the context of Worker’s Compensation claims, vocational rehabilitation typically starts upon the client reaching maximum medical improvement and having been assigned permanent work restrictions by the doctor that the employer of injury cannot and/or will not accommodate. It is at this juncture the insurance carrier will often initiate vocational rehabilitation efforts.
Much like the nurse case manager you may have had assigned to your claim by the workers’ compensation adjuster, the adjuster will now assign a different individual to assist you in regaining your wage earning capacity following your compensable work-related injury or occupational disease. There are specific rules that govern the conduct of these individuals that are a MUST READ for injured workers going through the vocational rehabilitation process. These rules can be located on the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s Website At Http://Www.Ic.Nc.Gov/Nursing.Html Among the more important rules are those that require the vocational rehabilitation professional to: display independent professional judgment, present an accurate job description to your treating doctor for approval, make sure the job presented is within your physical and mental abilities, resist the urge to perform investigative activities on behalf of the insurance company, make sure the job is reasonably located near your home, begin with a proper Vocational Assessment and development of a reasonable Individual Rehab Plan tailored to your case, and consider vocational retraining under the appropriate circumstances. Injured worker should be sent copies of all reports generated in connection with the rehabilitation provider’s involvement in your claim, to include copies of email correspondence with the claim adjuster. If you are represented by counsel, the vocational rehabilitation professional should schedule their initial meeting with you in the presence of your attorney.
A typical rehabilitation plan involves the injured worker making independent job searches every week, attending meetings with the vocational rehabilitation provider on a regular basis, preparing a professional resume and possibly registering for some classes where the injured worker needs additional training. Injured workers are often required to make a certain number of resume drops per week, copying their rehabilitation provider. The rehabilitation provider will likely also deliver a handful of job leads to the injured worker to follow up on before the next meeting. It is important to make sure the job leads provided by the vocational rehabilitation provider are suitable to the injured workers’ age, education, transferable skills, physical and mental limitations and other claim specific variables. Should suitable employment be located and approved by the treating physician, it is incumbent upon the injured worker to attempt to perform the job in a trial return to work. If the injured worker is unable to sustain the work due to symptoms traceable to the work-related injury, he or she should immediately notify his or her supervisor and authorized treating physician.
The vocational rehabilitation process can last for many months, but should not be continued if the continued rejection by employers causes despondency requiring the services of a mental health provider. Vocational rehabilitation should also be avoided in those cases that are certain not to produce the return of the injured worker to suitable employment. Vocational rehabilitation can often be successful in the end if retraining is considered as an option for the injured worker early in the process. At its best, vocational rehabilitation can be used to chart a bright new direction for an injured worker who has suffered a career ending injury. At its worst, vocational rehabilitation is simply used as a tool of harassment in rehabilitative guise. It is important you know how to tell the difference.
If you have questions about the rehabilitation professional assigned to your case, give us a call to discuss at your earliest convenience.