Rehabilitation Rights of Injured Workers
The word "rehabilitation" in the realm of workers' compensation has two very different meanings. When most people think of rehabilitation, they think of physical therapy or rehabilitative care aimed at overcoming an injury and regaining functionality. Then there is the concept of "vocational" rehabilitation. In many states, injured workers who cannot return to their former employment are entitled to this type of rehabilitation at the expense of their employer's workers' compensation carrier.
The amount and type of vocational rehabilitation provided to injured employees varies from state to state. Some of the services to which an injured worker may be entitled include:
- On-the-job training
- Transferable skills analysis and testing
- Resume and job application completion services
- Interview skills and techniques assistance
- Labor market surveys
- Job analyses
- Job search assistance
- Wage assessment evaluations
- Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling
- Ergonomics assessments
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reasonable accommodation assistance
- Medical case management
- Education and Tuition payments for retraining
The actual vocational rehabilitation benefits to which an injured employee will be entitled are determined not only by the employee's specific situation, but also must comport with statutory and regulatory limitations.
Responsibilities of Employees
In many states, the only specific employee responsibility in connection with vocational rehabilitation is that the employee must "accept" it. Inherent in this responsibility is the requirement that the employee cooperate with vocational rehabilitation efforts and make a valid attempt to return to suitable employment. Other states have different types of requirements. In certain states, for example, an injured employee is not required to participate in either physical rehabilitation or vocational rehabilitation.
A Notable Difference: In California, an employee needs to make a request for vocational rehabilitation, but may make the request at anytime within 15 years from the date of injury!
Warning to Employees: If an employee refuses to cooperate with rehabilitation service providers, the workers' compensation carrier may reduce, if not suspend, wage loss benefits for the period of non-cooperation.
Responsibilities of Employers
Employers (or their workers' compensation carriers) also have statutory and regulatory responsibilities which they must fulfill. For example, in some states, an employer must offer rehabilitation-counseling services to any employee who has an injury that has resulted in 60 days of lost time from work. The offer must be made within five days after that threshold has been reached. However, if the employee sustained a back injury, they only need lose 30 days of work in order for the employer to be required to offer rehabilitation counseling. In other states, however, an employer must offer vocational rehabilitation within 120 days if the injury resulted in a loss of "suitable gainful employment."
In some states, an employer may be required to pay for items such as tuition, living expenses, room and board, child care expenses, and travel expenses, in addition to regular wage loss benefits while an employee is participating in certain vocational rehabilitation programs. In some states, only specifically qualified individuals are allowed to provide vocational rehabilitation assistance to injured workers. For example, only individuals who are Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRCs), Certified Disability Management Specialists (CDMSs) or Certified Case Managers (CCMs) may provide vocational rehabilitation assistance to injured employees in some jurisdictions.