Tag Archives: Retraining

Return to Work – Vocational Services

In Washington State, a worker injured on the job must return to work, or be found able to return to work, before the workers’ compensation claim can be closed. Vocational services may be needed to facilitate a return to work. In rare cases where the worker remains permanently unable to work, a total disability pension may be awarded.

The Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) is not required to find the injured worker a job, but is required to document that the worker has the ability to obtain and maintain employment. DLI is not required to return a worker to their pre-injury earnings, either. Minimum wage or better is all that’s needed to establish employability.

How Vocational Services Work

If an injured worker cannot return to their job of injury, a vocational counselor (VRC) is assigned. The VRC will research options to determine if the worker has the skills and physical ability to perform a modified job with the same employer or, if not, another job within the general labor market. This ability to work assessment follows WAC 296-19A-065 as it’s foundation.

The information provided to workers entering the ability to work assessment phase can be found, here.

If the worker does not possess the skills and abilities to obtain and maintain employment after an injury, vocational retraining services can be provided to return the worker to employability. The claim progresses to a Plan Development phase, during which specific retraining goals are evaluated.

Retraining benefits under a workers’ compensation claim are generally limited to two years and a budget of $18,660.46, total, for tuition and expenses. Time loss compensation continues to be paid under the claim while the worker is participating in retraining.

Possible retraining plans that fall within the time limit and budget and that lead to a job that is medically appropriate and is likely to result in the worker obtaining employment can be on the table.

There Are Options

Once a retraining plan is offered to an injured worker, they have a choice to make – whether to participate in the plan, known as Option 1, or to opt out and pursue other training or schooling on their own – Option 2. The worker can begin the plan and then change their mind, within defined time limits.

DLI has detailed information about training options, here.

How Legal Representation Can Help

We believe that we get the best outcomes when we are involved in a claim early in the return-to-work evaluation process.

There can be disagreements about a worker’s actual physical abilities and stamina, which are both important factors in an accurate determination of their ability to return to full employment. There can be disagreements about the worker’s transferable skills and whether they support their ability to return to work. There also can be disagreements about a worker’s ability to benefit from retraining services.

These and other disagreements over vocational conclusions can lead to disputes, protests, appeals and, sometimes, litigation. Determinations are often reached quickly. The deadline for filing a vocational determination dispute is very short – 15 days. While we are willing to get involved in cases at any stage, it is more difficult to address the many facets of a vocational determination late in the process.

If you have questions about vocational services, feel free to contact us. We would be happy to discuss the specific details of your case with you.

Prior Posts On Topic

Contact an Attorney Early in Your Case for the Best Chance at a Fair Outcome

Injured worker contacts us for assistance with a mess of a case, one where decisions were made along the way – without the benefit of legal counsel – that now tie our hands and limit our ability to obtain what we otherwise would have thought to be an appropriate outcome. We do the best we can, but we wish they had reached out to us for advice earlier. This is a common occurrence for our firm, a frustrating scenario that I will dissect for you.  Here is a sample scenario, not derived from one person’s claim but a ficticious case to present common issues that arise in many complex claims:

  • Significant injury or combination of injuries/comditions, perhaps a knee injury that led to a total knee replacement procedure.
  • Difficulties recovering from surgery, such as the described total knee replacement procedure, lead to permanent limitations in mobility and function. There may be a potential argument about the level of rated permanent impairment and the amount of an impairment award to be paid at the conclusion of the claim.
  • Worker is unable to return to their job of injury, so undergoes a vocational assessment to determine if they can return to work in a physically-appropriate job with their current skill set or if vocational retraining is needed. Often, in significant injury claims, vocational retraining benefits are granted.
  • Worker is of a relatively advanced age, perhaps has a singular work history in physically-demanding line of work, and for a varitety of reasons may not want to pursue the offered retraining plan. Perhaps they don’t feel that college is a good fit for them, or they may not want to work in the intended job goal (often, “General Office Clerk” is seen as a recommended plan). The worker may have a disability pension option through their employment, and/or retirement savings, and will opt to go that route rather than participate in a retraining plan that they feel is inappropriate. Or, they think they can get back to work in a more appropriate field, even if only part-time, if they go forward on their own.
  • Their vocational counselor discusses the options before them once a retraining plan is offered: participate in the plan, receiving time loss compensation throughout; or, b) Opt out of retraining and, in exchange, receive a package that includes school vouchers equivalent to the current cost of a two-year retraining plan for their own use, a closed period of monetary benefits called a “vocational award” and equal to time loss compensation, but with payment made regardless of any return to work made, and a variety of other associated, standard benefits.
  • The worker chooses to “opt out” of retraining.  However, they do not have a full picture of their potential benefits available, because a vocational counselor can only discuss vocational options while there are other potential legal paths that can be discussed with a lawyer. Once the option selection has been made, though, many, if not all, of those legal paths disappear, even though the worker did not know of the existence of the full spectrum of options available under the law.
  • The worker then contacts a law firm for assistance, with many questions about what’s next for them, what their rights are under the law. In some cases, the options available are significantly limited by the time we get this call. Options such as a Structured Settlement Agreement (CRSSA), or an argument that a specific retraining plan is not, in fact, appropriate under the specific circumstances, or that a total disability pension is the more appropriate outcome from vocational evaluation. This analysis of options outside of the scope of a retraining plan or return-to-work outcome will not be discussed by a vocational counselor; it is outside of the scope of their assignment under your claim.

Whenever an injured worker receives advice from their doctor, their vocational counselor, their friends, co-workers or family members, they are getting only opinions, not legal advice. The giver of the advice may have the best of intentions and may have experiences that guide the forming of their opinion, but in almost all cases they do not have legal training or experience.  Workers deserve to have the benefit of legal consultation before making decisions with long-term consequences, often for not only the worker but also their spouse or family.

We have found that having contact with an injured worker early in the process gives us the opportunity to discuss the path that lies ahead, potential pitfalls, options and likely outcomes. If we can be involved with a worker during the vocational process, we can provide guidance when questions and options come up and help the injured worker make the decisions that best benefit them, taking into consideration the individual facts of their case and the legal remedies available with each possible choice.

Like most law firms that handle workers’ compensation cases, our firm offers a free consultation and case analysis. This may or may not lead to representation, but it can provide a road map for the case ahead and form the foundation of representation should it become necessary in the future. Everyone in your case has their own specialty and/or perspective – your doctor, vocational counselor, employer or other party that may be involved. You deserve to have a professional to discuss your case with to form your own plan and perspective on your claim.

Workers’ compensation claims can be very complex. Feel free to contact us today for a conversation about your case.

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