An injured worker who is covered by the Nebraska Workers Compensation Act can ask for vocational rehabilitation services if he or she is unable to return to “suitable employment” due to post-injury physical limitations. Suitable employment takes into account these physical limitations and how they affect pre-injury versus post-injury wages while also considering other factors such as age, education, etc… The goal is to return you to suitable employment as soon as possible.
The Court has developed a list of priorities for the implementation of vocational plans as follows:
- Return to the previous job with the same employer;
- Modification of the previous job;
- A new job with the same employer;
- A job with a new employer;
- Formal retraining designed to lead to employment in another career field.
The first step in the development of a plan is the selection of a vocational counselor. Sometimes an employer will not agree with starting this process or with the selection of a particular counselor. It is then necessary to contact the Workers’ Compensation Court and file a request for the appointment of a counselor.
Once a counselor is selected (by agreement or by Court appointment), the counselor’s job is to prepare an initial assessment of your situation and determine whether or not the development of a plan is appropriate. Vocational rehabilitation plans can include job placement, on the job training, and other retraining such as schooling. Nebraska law encourages direct job placement and on-the-job training before considering more expensive plans such as schooling. Different counselors tend to prefer different types of plans. You should contact our office before agreeing to a counselor suggested by the employer/insurer. We have extensive experience in the development and implementation of vocational rehabilitation plans.
A vocational counselor must prepare a plan for submission to the Nebraska Workers Compensation Court for approval. The employer must also approve the plan. The employer is responsible for the vocational rehabilitation counselor’s fee for preparation of a plan and the submission of all Court required documentation as the plan runs.
The process above can be a source of tension between the employer and employee. Sometimes an employer or the Court will not agree to a particular plan. Other times an employer will claim that they have suitable work available but in reality it is not suitable at all given the nature of the injuries. Supervisors frequently ignore new work restrictions and force employees into violating physician-ordered restrictions. If an employer claims that you can return to work and this is “suitable,” you should contact our office to confirm.
You should never quit your job without contacting our office. You may lose vocational benefits by quitting.
Sometimes it is necessary to file a petition and ask a judge to order approval of a plan. Here is a link to an example of our office fighting for your rights: Fighting for Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits: Stanfill v. Nash Finch Company.
If approved, the plan will provide benefits including full temporary total disability benefits for the duration of the rehabilitation. Other possible benefits include: mileage reimbursement, tuition, tools, books, and room/board. All costs must be approved by the Court.
Vocational rehabilitation assessments and the implementation of a plan require cooperation on your part. Cooperation may include meeting with a counselor, maintaining communication with the counselor, or undergoing reasonable evaluation such as testing. You should timely reply to any Court requests for information. You must also accept an offer for “suitable employment” if offered by your employer or another employer. If you fail to meet these general responsibilities you may lose your rights to vocational rehabilitation.
You also have the right to disagree with the proposed plan and seek the approval of another plan. It is usually necessary to hire another vocational counselor to prepare an alternate plan. You would be responsible for any of the fees charged by this particular counselor. By speaking with an attorney early on, you may be able to avoid this unneeded expense.
Remember that you must prove that your injuries are permanent and that you are unable to find suitable employment before you are eligible to participate in a vocational plan.
If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, this is an important next step in life. Take advantage of this benefit if it is available. Some of these plans are quite expensive, which means you might meet resistance in getting a proper vocational plan approved. Putnam Law has extensive experience in coordinating and compelling vocational plans. Please call early on to find out your rights.