Consider the following scenario:
Following a work injury, your doctor labels you totally disabled from any type of employment. The insurance company continues to pay you temporary total disability benefits pursuant to an award entered by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.
At some point, your treating physician releases you to return to light duty work. Your employer cannot accommodate those light duty restrictions. You are then informed that a vocational rehabilitation counselor will be working with you to help you find a light duty job. What does that mean for you and your case?
What is vocational rehailitation?
In theory, vocational rehabilitation is designed to help an injured worker find gainful employment. The main goal, however, is to cut off the insurance company’s ongoing exposure to continue paying you disability benefits. Additionally, vocational rehabilitation is often used to trap you into doing something that allows the suspension of your benefits. It can also be used to pressure you into accepting a small settlement offer from the insurance company. The vocational rehabilitation process can be daunting and frustrating. It is important to understand your rights and obligations.
First and foremost, vocational rehabilitation should not be initiated until you are released to some type of employment by your treating doctor. Once a medical release is secured, the vocational rehabilitation counselor will contact you to set up an initial meeting. That meeting can be in-person or by phone. You are entitled to have your attorney present at the initial meeting.
What should I expect from vocational rehabilitation?
During this meeting, the counselor will ask questions about your work history, your salary history and your education. It is the counselor’s job to find you alternative work that is consistent with the type of work you did before you were injured. The counselor should consider such things as distance from your residence, transportation costs and projected salary of any job leads. The counselor is allowed direct contact with potential employers to explore possible jobs, and may ask you to build a resume and attend job fairs.
The vocational rehabilitation counselor should limit contact with you to normal business hours. This means there should not be any calls before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m. unless there is an emergency. Any meetings between you and the counselor should take place at a reasonable time and place. You are not required to invite the counselor into your home.
The counselor is limited to assisting you with the job search process only and cannot medically manage your care. Keep in mind, however, that monitoring your medical care is not the same as managing it. Additionally, the counselor cannot advise you to withhold information about your injury or your physical capabilities when applying for jobs.
The vocational rehabilitation counselor may not ask you to apply for telemarketing jobs or take a job at a sheltered work place that is subsidized by the employer or insurance company. There is an exception if you have demonstrated an ability to work in the telemarketing field. You may also be required to work in a sheltered work place if that position provides legitimate vocational rehabilitation.
What is expected of me during vocational rehabilitation?
During your rehabilitation, it is your obligation to actively participate in the process. You must apply for the job leads the counselor sends to you. Be prepared to provide proof that you have applied for any such job leads. If you are sent for a job interview, you must appear at the interview appropriately dressed, and present yourself well.
Keep in mind that the vocational rehabilitation counselor is sending monthly reports to the workers’ compensation insurance company about your progress. Failure to do what the counsel asks of you may result in a suspension of your benefits.
As part of the vocational rehabilitation process, you are entitled to recover your costs. This includes your mileage for attending meetings with the counselor, submitting job applications or attending interviews. If you do not have access to transportation, it is your obligation to advise that counselor promptly, so that transportation may be arranged.
The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission’s complete guidelines for the vocational rehabilitation process can be found here.
Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed by this process. Call Allen and Allen today at 866-388-1307. We are here to help!