In Massachusetts, some injured workers are eligible for free vocational services as part of their Workers Compensation benefits. If eligible, the Department of Industrial Accidents choses a counselor and requires the insurance company to pay. This sounds great. You’ll be able to transition back into the workforce and be set up for success.
But sometimes, this is exactly what the insurance company wants; i.e., using the state regulations to force an injured worker off of weekly disability. Watch out for Vocational Rehabilitation Pitfalls if you are receiving Workers Compensation in Massachusetts.
For some injured workers, vocational retraining is a great benefit. If you are a young, uneducated, iron-worker, earning $2,000.00 per week, what happens if you’re injured? If you break your back falling off a building, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever make that much money again. Without retraining, you might be only able to get work paying minimum wage.
Vocational rehabilitation may provide for a full education, and placement in a career to try to get you as close to your prior earnings as you can. That may provide you with $2,500.00 per week in wages. It makes sense for the insurance company to re-train a young physically-disabled worker, who could otherwise be on permanent and total benefits for life. The vocational program calls for only 104 weeks of service; however, a good attorney and an interested insurance company may agree on more education for the right injured worker.What About Vocational Rehab for Older Workers?
If you are over 55-years old, it is unlikely that vocational rehabilitation will be of much help. Sometimes, the DIA counselor will find the injured worker unsuitable for retraining, even if the injured worker is really motivated to return to work.
More likely, the DIA will use the vocational rehab process to stop the weekly checks if an injured worker refuses to participate and to reduce weekly checks by 15% if the injured worker rejects the vocational counselor’s suggestions. The DIA vocational counselor can even interfere with lump sum settlement proposals if you don’t cooperate with him/her. Imagine the insurance company offering you a $100,000.00 settlement, and you can’t get it until the vocational rehabilitation specialist signs off.
There are many ways that an injured worker can be transitioned back into the workforce. The DIA has a preference for certain ways this happens. The hierarchy of vocational services is to:
- Return the worker to the same job with the same employer;
- Return the worker to a different job with the same employer;
- Return the worker to same job with a different employer;
- Return the worker to different job with different employer;
- And finally – retraining.
The Workers Compensation Attorneys at Marcotte Law Firm often feel that if a worker wants to return to work, he or she should stay with the same employer. That way, if work cannot be sustained, the employer is still on the hook for future disability checks.
If the DIA puts the injured worker at a different employer, the insurer will fight future medical treatment or a return to disability, asserting any worsening of health was caused by the new employer. Needless to say, it is hard to get a new job when the DIA vocational counselor is involved, as any new employer will see you as injured goods.
Before you attend any vocational meeting at the Department of Industrial Accidents, consult with lawyers at Marcotte Law Firm, who will keep you away from the obvious pitfalls along the process.