Category Archives: Vocational Retraining

Changes to Vocational Rules Adopted

Changes to vocational rules have been adopted, implementing enhanced AWA (ability to work assessment) services and providing enforcement mechanisms for actions against VRCs and vocational firms.

We wrote about the changes under consideration when they were proposed over the summer. See Vocational Recovery Services. Our firm has represented claimants in many cases where vocational services or outcomes have been at issue. Often, the issues can best be addressed early in the claim, while the worker is participating in vocational services. In other cases, litigation is pursued.

You may read the full notice about the changes to vocational services rules issued by DLI, excerpted below, here.

The WA Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) adopted the proposed changes to WAC 296-19A on Oct. 22, 2019. The new rules were first proposed in August, and go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The adopted rules outline vocational recovery services to align with RCW 51.32.095 which places a high priority on returning a worker to employment.

The rule changes also:

  • Establish certain expectations for vocational firms.
  • Clarify when VRCs and vocational firms may be subject to corrective actions or sanctions.
  • Spell out what those sanctions include.

You can review the adopted rule language on DLI’s website for rule development.

DLI is developing training for vocational providers that will assist them in meeting these expectations, and applying worker centric vocational recovery best practices.

Vocational Recovery Services – New Rules Proposed

New rules proposed by WA Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) would add vocational recovery services as the first services provided by vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs) in most State Fund cases. This would replace the current early intervention services, with similar steps to be taken. The intent is to better align the rules with the state law that places a high priority on returning a worker to employment after an injury.

Vocational Recovery Services

In recent years, L&I has made significant changes intended to reduce process delays so that vocational providers can more effectively engage injured workers, employers, and medical providers before long-term disability sets in. Reported results include higher return-to-work rates and reduced costs for L&I.

For an injured worker, the effect of these changes is that a vocational counselor is assigned to their claim early in the process. VRC’s are tasked with a multi-step effort to try to return the injured worker to employment as soon as possible after an injury, either with the employer of injury, a past employer or a new one. The VRC may obtain work and education history from the worker as well as physical restrictions from the attending physician. Any proposed job offers are run by the physician for review and approval or modifications, if appropriate.

Often, once these initial steps are done, the VRC will remain assigned to the claim to monitor progress with treatment and continue with efforts towards returning the worker to some type of work, as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for us to see VRCs stay on a claim even when surgery is on the horizon.

Vocational Recovery Services – Review Proposed Changes

The proposed rules are available for review on L&I’s website for rule development.

The Proposed Rule Making notice, with explanations of the changes and the expected effect of those changes, can be found here. The full text of the existing rules along with proposed changes and additions can be found here.

Provide your input to L&I

Changes in vocational rules have the potential to impact the benefits received by an injured worker, both monetary and vocational. For this reason, I recommend that you review the proposed rule changes and provide your input to the Department of Labor and Industries during the public comment period, which closed on October 4th.

You may provide input in writing by email, mail, or fax through 6 p.m. on Oct. 4th. You may also participate in a public hearing at 10 a.m. on Oct. 2 at the Department of Labor and Industries in Tumwater. L&I will consider all input before preparing the final rules this fall.

Don’t Believe What Insurance Carriers Say: Workers Do Finish Retraining Programs

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

“He’ll never go back to school.”  “He’ll never complete school.”

As a representative of injured workers, I hear those refrains on repeat from insurance carriers.  And, guess what?  It’s just not true.

Vocational retraining claims straddle the line between being a worker’s advocate and being their social worker.  Under the law, if an injured worker has permanent limitations following an injury that does not allow them to return to their former employer, they can pursue vocational retraining benefits–which includes receiving weekly workers’ compensation benefits (2/3 of weekly wage) along with compensation for meals, parking, books, mileage and tuition.  As an advocate, I’m urging an injured worker to pursue retraining to maximize their benefits under the law.  But more importantly, I put on my “social worker” hat to encourage these workers to return to school as a means to help themselves, their families, and society as a whole.

Restoring an injured workers’ earning capacity serves as the underpinning behind vocational retraining benefits.  Simply put, we want to incentivize working.  If a worker is too injured to return to their old line of work, let’s try to get that worker retrained (presumably to a less physical field) so they can reenter the workplace and be a productive member of the economy.  Social work and advocacy fit together when encouraging a worker to go back to school.

However, far too many insurance carriers scoff at the viability of injured workers returning to school–especially after decades of absence from a school setting.  Even though not everyone is a great school candidate, I’m amazed each and every day watching my clients pursue their retraining with passion and vigor.   I feel pride and vindication when that same client forwards me a copy of their certificate or diploma after completing the program.  That document is immediately forwarded to the insurance carrier.  (I recently forwarded a completed diploma from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and one from Milwaukee Area Technical College).

Most workers just want to be back working.  They want to earn income, provide for their families, and find purpose.  If a work injury knocks them out of their old job, most workers embrace the idea of going back to school and finding a new field that fits their limitations.   Even for individuals with limited eductional backgrounds, most schools provide incredible academic support or remedial programs.  Under Wisconsin law, we can claim vocational retraining benefits for remedial or GED programs, even before a worker begins a formalized program (though consulting with an attorney first is best).

I’d urge insurance carrier to not underestimate the efforts of a motivated worker.