Severe Injuries Reduce Employee’s Capability to Earn a Living
Severe injuries or occupational illness can leave the injured employee unable to return to work in the same capacity as before their injury or illness. While these types of claims are expensive to the self-insured employer or insurer, they are life-altering events to the employee. The injury or illness reduces the employee’s physical capability to earn a living performing the same type of work as they did before.
Vocational Rehab Required
The workers’ compensation laws of most states require vocational rehabilitation be provided to the employees who have lost part or all of their capacity to work. Depending on the state, the cost of vocational rehabilitation is paid for by either the state government or by the insurer.
Types of Vocational Rehab
Vocational rehabilitation exists in several forms and levels of intensity from simple work hardening to complete retraining of the employee to earn a living in another type of work. Included in the requirements of vocational rehabilitation are various services designed to assist the employee to return to work. These include:
- Vocational counseling – professional testing and assessment of the employee’s skills, interest, abilities and (sometimes) psychological makeup
- Creation of an employment plan – identifying the types of occupations the employee is best suited for based on their aptitudes, skills, interest and abilities
- Job location – identifying available jobs within the employee’s locale
- Job placement – arranging job interviews and assisting the employee with proper interview techniques
- Retraining – if there are no available jobs that match the employee’s skills, interest and abilities, the placement in a vocational education program to teach new skills
- Adaptive technology – the use of prosthetics, electronics or other adaptive devices in the performance of their job
Realistic Expectations for Outcome
There will be occasions when the injuries or occupational illness is so severe that vocational counseling, retraining and adaptive technology combined cannot return the employee to any type of work. In some states vocational rehabilitation will include teaching the employee skills needed to simply move around in the home and to adapt to functioning on their own.
Employees will often have unrealistic expectations about what vocational rehabilitation can accomplish. If prior to the injury or illness the employee was performing manual labor for a living, becoming a commercial airplane pilot or a nuclear scientist is not realistic. For this reason, most jurisdictions that require vocational rehabilitation will put a cap on the amount of time or money that can be spent retraining an individual.
Employee’s Attorney Can Strive to Drive Up Value of Claim
Vocational rehabilitation is often an area where an employee’s attorney will strive to create conflict and to drive up the settlement value of the claim. Ideally, vocational rehabilitation will allow the injured employee to return to earning a living at the same or higher level of income. Often due to the employee’s limited skill set, limited education, physical limitations, age and motivation to find a new job, returning the employee to work in a position that pays as much as their prior job is difficult to impossible to accomplish.
Attorneys representing the employee will often calculate the difference in pay between what the employee might have earned in the future if the work comp claim had never occurred and what the employee in vocational rehabilitation may earn in the future. For example, if the employee was making $50,000 a year before the work comp claim, and will earn $40,000 a year after vocational rehabilitation, and has 30 working years ahead, the attorney will demand the employee be paid $300,000 ($10,000 per year X 30 years).
Vocational Rehab Can Benefit All Parties
It is imperative that the vocational rehabilitation specialist, in conjunction with the vocational counselor, strives to return the injured or ill employee to the highest possible level of functioning and earning capacity to control the long-term cost of vocational rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation can be time consuming and costly to accomplish, but everyone – employee, employer and society in general – benefits when the employee receives proper vocational rehabilitation.
Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers Compensation Management Program: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.
Editor Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
WORKERS COMP MANAGEMENT MANUAL: www.WCManual.com
Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.
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