Workers Compensation

What Are Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits in Workers' Comp?

By Carey Worrell, Attorney (J.D., Harvard Law School)
If you can't return to your regular job because of a work injury, you may be entitled to job training services.

You may be entitled to vocational rehabilitation benefits if a workplace injury prevents you from doing the work you did prior to your injury. Continue reading to learn who is eligible for these benefits and how they are paid.

Vocational Rehabilitation Basics

Vocational rehabilitation describes a wide range of services that help impaired workers develop the skills they need to return to their jobs or enter a new line of work. For example, a construction worker who loses a leg in a workplace accident will probably not be able to return to construction work in the future. This can be devastating to a worker with a long and successful career in a particular industry. Fortunately, vocational rehabilitation can help injured workers successfully transition to other fields of work, or in some cases, adapt to a different job within the same field or with the same employer.

Vocational rehabilitation services are usually tailored to the needs of the particular worker. In general, though, services can include skills evaluation, job placement, assistance with résumé writing, job training, career counseling, additional education, and help determining the ideal work environment for successful employment. The main goal of vocational rehabilitation is to return the injured worker to a job that pays as close to the worker’s pre-injury earnings as possible.

A vocational rehabilitation counselor will typically create a rehabilitation plan for the worker, based on the worker’s abilities and limitations. The plan may be as simple as redesigning a workstation to make it more suitable for an injured worker. For example, a worker with a hand injury may need a different type of keyboard or telephone that is easier to operate. On the other hand, a more complex vocational rehabilitation plan may test a worker’s skills to find what jobs the worker is best suited for, help the worker obtain the necessary education or certifications in that field, and assist the worker in finding a job in the new field.

How to Get Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits

You will usually be eligible to receive vocational rehabilitation benefits if you are unable to return to your regular job due to your workplace injury. Different states have different rules you must follow in order to receive vocational rehabilitation services. In general, though, you must get approval from the insurance company or the state workers’ compensation board before obtaining vocational rehabilitation services.

In many states, permanently disabled workers are required to participate in a vocational rehabilitation program. For example, in New York, workers with a permanent disability of more than 50% are required to participate in vocational rehabilitation. If you are required to participate in vocational rehabilitation and you fail to do so, your workers’ comp benefits can be reduced. In Massachusetts, your weekly benefits can be decreased by 15% if you turn down vocational rehabilitation services. Likewise, in Michigan, your benefits can be reduced after a hearing if you fail to follow through with a vocational rehab plan.

How Vocational Rehab Benefits Are Paid

The manner in which vocational rehab benefits are paid differs from state to state. For example, in California, injured workers receive a voucher for $6,000, which they can spend on vocational rehabilitation services from state-approved providers. In other states, the insurance company is billed directly by the provider for the services that you receive. If you settle your case with the insurance company, your settlement may also include a set amount for vocational rehabilitation services. (For more information, see What Is a Good Settlement for My Workers’ Comp Case?)

Most states limit the amount of vocational rehab services you can receive. For example, in Michigan and Oklahoma, workers may receive up to two years of vocational rehabilitation services. In other states, such as Texas, you can continue to receive services for as long as your rehab counselor deems necessary.

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