In some cases, an employee who suffers a workplace-related injury develops a permanent impairment or disability. Even if the impairment only partially keeps them from working, it may be enough to prevent them from returning to their previous job or an equivalent job.
Understanding Vocational Rehabilitation
Vocational rehabilitation is a professional services program that helps injured or disabled persons retrain for new or different jobs during or after medical treatment. Vocational rehabilitation aims to enable the disabled person to return to work as quickly as possible. These services can include vocational evaluation, retraining, and job placement.
An injured worker who cannot return to their pre-injury job or an equivalent position due to permanent restrictions may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. For example, an award of permanent partial disability that prevents workers from working at their previous job can make them eligible for vocational rehabilitation. This program can provide training for the injured worker to work in a different field or type of employment.
Accessing Vocational Rehabilitation Services
An employer or insurance company may voluntarily provide vocational rehabilitation services for workers, and the workers may accept those services. However, if that situation does not occur, the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission, upon request or on its own motion, can refer the employee for a vocational rehabilitation evaluation at the employer’s expense. This evaluation measures the practicality, the need for, and the kind of services necessary for the worker to become substantially and gainfully employed.
Under Section 810:20-1-3 of the Permanent Rules of the Workers’ Compensation Commission, if one or both of the parties dispute the evaluator’s report or agree on the plan that the evaluator has recommended, they can proceed to mediation or attend a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ then decides the appropriateness of the report or plan and may order the employer or insurance coverage to provide the recommended services at their expense.
Restrictions on Vocational Rehabilitation Services
State law places additional restrictions on access to vocational rehabilitation services for individuals receiving workers’ compensation benefits. First, under 85A O.S. § 45(E)(4), the employee may qualify for vocational rehabilitation services even before they reach maximum medical improvement if the treating physician believes that the injury is likely to prevent them from returning to their former position.
Next, any party requesting that the worker receive vocational rehabilitation services must file a request with the Commission no later than 60 days after the worker receives permanent disability that prevents them from returning to their previous position or an equivalent position.
Vocational rehabilitation services may not extend more than 52 weeks. However, the insurer may be responsible for paying for the worker’s lodging, board, travel, equipment, books, and tuition if they must undergo training at a location away from their primary residence. These payments are in addition to the weekly workers’ compensation benefits to which they are otherwise entitled.
Finally, while the employee is actively and in good faith undergoing vocational rehabilitation services, they may qualify for up to 52 additional weeks of temporary total disability benefits. They will receive these benefits at the same rate they have been receiving before entering vocational rehabilitation.
Contact Us Today at Armstrong & Vaught, P.L.C.
We have years of experience handling your employment, workers’ compensation, and Social Security disability legal needs. We provide the legal knowledge and guidance you need when facing these types of legal problems. Call us at (918) 582-2500 or visit us online to see how we can assist you.