By :Douglas A. Petho
What is Vocational Rehabilitation?
Once injured employee has been determined to have reached a maximum medical improvement after an injury (often referred to as a patient being at “MMI”), employers will often utilize the services of vocational rehabilitation specialists. Usually this occurs when an injured worker is released to return to work with restrictions.
Under rules adopted by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, a worker who has not returned to work have returned to work, has the right to vocational rehabilitation. So long as the education and/or retraining is reasonably likely to substantially increase the injured worker’s wage earning capacity following the completion of the education or retraining program, vocational rehabilitation can be required.
The first step in this process is usually a vocational assessment. At this meeting the rehabilitation professional interviews the injured worker to assess the person’s education, job experience, medical circumstances as well as interests. Following the meeting a vocational assessment will be prepared in the form of an individualized written rehabilitation plan for the injured worker. this plan may contain education and retraining through community college or university classes and assistance in job placement.
The length of time and injured worker receives vocational rehabilitation depends on the individual case. So long as the activities are “reasonably likely to result in the placement of a injured worker in suitable employment”, rehabilitation will be authorized.
Once suitable employment has been offered, it is incumbent on the injured worker to either accept the position or forgo further TTD benefits. What constitutes suitable employment is often a topic of considerable controversy and debate.
Suitable employment is defined in North Carolina Gen. statute 97 – 2(22) in part as “employment that an employee is capable of performing considering the employee’s pre-existing an injury related physical and mental limitations, vocational skills, education experience and is located within a 50 mile radius of the employee’s residence at the time of injury or the employee’s current residence if the employee had a legitimate reason to relocate since the date of the injury.”