Vocational rehabilitation is the process of rebuilding a person’s work skills after he or she was injured while on the job. This training allows employees whose permanently disabling injuries no longer allow them to complete the tasks required of their previous job the opportunity to learn skills for a new type of employment. If you live in Augusta and were recently injured while at work and have questions about your own right to receive vocational training, it is important to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who is familiar with state law and can help protect your interests.
Examples of Vocational Rehabilitation
In Georgia, if an employee sustains a catastrophic injury while on the job, he or she is guaranteed the right to receive vocational rehabilitation benefits through the state’s workers’ compensation program. Catastrophic injuries are those that are so severe that an employee cannot perform his or her prior work or any type of work that is available in substantial numbers in the national economy. This includes injuries that involve any of the following problems:
- Second or third degree burns over 25 percent of a person’s body or third degree burns over five percent or more of the face or hands;
- Total or industrial blindness;
- Amputation of an arm, hand, foot, or leg; or
- A spinal cord injury involving severe paralysis of the arms, legs, or trunk.
Severe head injuries are also considered catastrophic injuries if they result in:
- Sensory disturbances;
- Motor disturbances;
- Communication disturbances;
- Lapses in consciousness;
- Cerebral function disturbances; or
- Severe episodic neurological disorders.
Finally, any injury that prevents an employee from being able to perform his or her work or other available work for which he or she is qualified is also considered catastrophic in nature. In the event that an employer or the board determines that an injury is non-catastrophic, the employee has the right to request a new determination as long as the request is based on reasonable grounds.
Types of Vocational Rehabilitation
Employees who sustain catastrophic injuries are entitled to receive vocational rehabilitation through the workers’ compensation program. State law defines this type of rehabilitation as any service, provided directly or through public or private instrumentalities that enables injured parties to engage in gainful employment. This could include any of the following programs and tests:
- On-the-job training for new tasks;
- Vocational evaluations;
- Transferable skills analysis and job testing;
- Resume building and job application services;
- Interview coaching;
- Refresher courses;
- Educational programs;
- Conducting labor market surveys;
- Job analyses;
- Job search assistance;
- Wage assessment evaluations;
- Career counseling;
- Consulting potential employers about job accommodations;
- Ergonomics assessments;
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reasonable accommodation assistance; and
- Education and tuition payments required for retraining.
Because employers are required to offer vocational rehabilitation services to workers who sustain catastrophic injuries, employees are also required to make a good faith effort to use those services to learn new skills or they risk losing their benefits entirely. While employees are undergoing vocational rehabilitation, they will receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits until their condition improves or they are able to return to work. If the employee earns less in his or her new job, he or she will begin receiving temporary partial disability benefits (TPD), which are approximately two-thirds of the difference between the prior weekly wage and the new wage.
One of the first steps in the vocational rehabilitation process is the completion of a vocational assessment. In most cases, injured workers are assigned a vocational counselor who will administer the assessment through written tests, work samples, and discussions. Generally, the goals of these assessments are:
- To identify the employee’s physical and intellectual abilities;
- To determine the worker’s skill sets and interests;
- To identify skills that could be transferable to a new job;
- To create appropriate vocational goals;
- To draft a personalized plan that contains information about the types of services from which the employee may benefit; and
- To determine the costs and requirements of the employee’s plan.
The plan created by the vocational counselor will depend largely on the injured party’s skills and prior work history. For this reason, plans may simply require the redesign of an employee’s workstation, so that he or she is able to operate at maximum efficiency. This could include a plan to obtain a specific kind of keyboard or a place to sit. A more complex plan could focus on testing an employee’s skills to find other jobs that best suit his or her abilities, helping a worker obtain certifications or additional education in a specific field, or helping a worker find a new job in a new field.
Unfortunately, Georgia residents are only guaranteed vocational rehabilitation when they sustain catastrophic injuries. However, this does not mean that an employer is prohibited from providing rehabilitation services on a voluntary basis as long as the agreement is in writing. Furthermore, the rehabilitation supplier used by the parties must hold the appropriate licenses and certifications and be registered with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.
Contact Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. Today to Speak With an Experienced Augusta Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Vocational rehabilitation offers injured employees the opportunity to receive the training that will allow them to transition to a new job. While these benefits are not guaranteed to workers who sustained catastrophic injuries while on the job, many employers are willing to enter into a voluntary agreement with the injured parties to help them get back on their feet. Determining whether an injury meets the threshold of catastrophic or whether an employer can or will provide rehabilitation services can be difficult. At the law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A., we are dedicated to helping our clients seek the benefits that they deserve. If you have questions or concerns about whether you are eligible to receive vocational rehabilitation, please send us a brief message containing your name, contact information, and a brief description of your case, or initiate a live chat with a member of our experienced Augusta, GA workers’ compensation legal team today.