Louisiana Vocational Rehabilitation
If you were injured or developed an illness while on the job, you have the right to seek workers’ compensation. People usually associate workers’ compensation with receiving money for medical bills and lost wages, but workers’ compensation also includes another benefit: vocational rehabilitation.
When someone experiences a workplace injury or illness, they may be unable to return to their previous place of work or career. Certain physical or mental limitations brought on by the work injury may prohibit an employee from working their pre-injury job, but they may qualify for training and education, known as vocational rehabilitation, that qualifies them for a new occupation.
Workers do not need to prove that someone was at fault for their injury in order to qualify for workers’ compensation including vocational rehabilitation.
Although receiving workers’ compensation should be an easy process, employers and workers’ compensation insurance companies often underpay or deny claims. If you were injured or developed an illness in your workplace, you need expert legal assistance to help you through the process of recovering as much as possible from your affliction. Skilled Louisiana workers’ compensation lawyers can ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve for medical bills and lost wages, and they will fight for you in the event that your benefits are unjustly underpaid or cut short. For workers’ compensation legal support you can count on, contact the lawyers at Lunsford, Baskin, and Priebe, PLLC. Call our New Orleans office at 504-302-4131 or you can schedule a free case evaluation here.
Louisiana Vocational Rehabilitation Options
Injured or ill employees have different options when it comes to vocational rehabilitation. Rehabilitation mainly aims to get an employee back to work as soon as possible and with as little training as possible. The Louisiana Revised state 23:1226(B) states that:
B (1) The goal of rehabilitation services is to return a disabled worker to work, with a minimum of retraining, as soon as possible after an injury occurs. The first appropriate option among the following must be chosen for the worker:
- (a) Return to the same position.
- (b) Return to a modified position.
- (c) Return to a related occupation suited to the claimant’s education and marketable skills.
- (d) On-the-job training.
- (e) Short-term retraining program (less than twenty-six weeks).
- (f) Long-term retraining program (more than twenty-six weeks but not more than one year).
- (g) Self-employment.
Employees going through vocational rehabilitation work with a vocational rehabilitation counselor (discussed in more detail below) to determine a realistic course of action for their career based on their limitations and skills.
In Louisiana, employees have certain rights under vocational rehabilitation. The Louisiana Workforce Commission for the Department of Labor stated that workers have the following rights while undergoing vocational rehabilitation:
- Workers have the right to apply for vocational rehabilitation services
- Workers should be treated respectfully
- Workers have the right to confidentiality because they share personal information during the rehabilitation process
- Workers should be treated fairly when it comes to eligibility
- Workers should receive eligibility determination within 60 days of applying
- Workers have the right to know why they were determined to be ineligible for services
- Workers should be referred to other facilities and agencies when applicable
- Workers have the right to appeal a vocational rehabilitation decision or denial via administrative review or a hearing
- Workers have the right to receive information and help through the Client Assistance Program (CAP)
- Workers have the right to receive an assessment for vocational rehabilitation
What Are the Vocational Rehabilitation Requirements in Louisiana?
Workers’ compensation insurance companies are required to be able to provide injured employees with vocational rehabilitation. Insurance companies are required to offer rehabilitation in the event that the employee can’t receive 100% of their pre-injury or illness wages. This is often the case when injured employees perform light-duty work, meaning work activities that are less physically or mentally demanding than their pre-injury tasks. If the injured employer offers the employee an alternative or modified position, the insurance company does not need to provide vocational rehabilitation services.
When insurance companies provide vocational rehabilitation, they need to:
- Test the employee’s abilities
- Assess the medical condition of the injured employee
- Take the employee’s capabilities and assessments into consideration while searching for a job
- Meet with employers to see if they can hire an employee with physical or mental limitations
- Help the injured employee apply for available jobs
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors in Louisiana
Vocational rehabilitation counselors work with injured employees to find a new suitable employment situation. In Louisiana, the workers’ compensation insurance company chooses the vocational rehabilitation counselor, meaning that they are likely biased to favor the insurance company above your wellbeing. Vocational rehabilitation counselors want more referrals from workers’ compensation insurance companies, so they’ll work to shorten the amount of time in which you’re on workers’ compensation benefits to save insurance companies money.
Working with a vocational rehabilitation counselor who doesn’t have your best interest in mind may result in:
- Reduction of benefits
- Termination of benefits
- Hurt your chances for a fair settlement in your workers’ compensation claim
Although many vocational rehabilitation counselors favor insurance companies, some genuinely want to help injured workers. A helpful counselor can:
- Ensure you continue receiving benefits if you’re not ready to return to work
- Assist you in finding favorable employment
- Ensure a fair case settlement
Vocational rehabilitation counselors typically meet with the primary physician in an injured employee’s workers’ compensation case. Counselors can work with the treating doctor to find an employment situation in which the injured employee can perform work tasks despite their new physical or mental limitations.
In Louisiana, counselors are not required to receive permission from the employee to meet with their physician. That being said, the counselor is required to notify either the employee or the employee’s attorney 15 days in advance of the meeting. Employees or their attorneys can attend the meeting between the counselor and the doctor. After the meeting, the counselor is also required to send a letter to everyone involved with the meeting summary.
What Needs to Be Included in Vocational Rehabilitation?
Louisiana courts require certain procedures for workers’ compensation insurance companies and counselors to perform. These include:
- Counselors need to consider medical records and work with the treating physician and injured employee to determine a viable work situation.
- Counselors must have face-to-face conversations with treating physicians.
- Counselors need to consider a victim’s entire medical history and not just their work injury or illness.
- Counselors must consult with the injured employee face-to-face.
- Counselors need to consider the victim’s education, job history, and social background to determine the person’s skills and ability to adapt to a new work situation.
- Insurance companies need to conduct job or Labor Market Surveys that consider all of the previously mentioned information.
- Counselors are required to maintain communication with employees.
- Counselors and employees need to have a second consultation.
- Counselors need to be available to help employees with training, interviews, resumes, and other tasks related to gaining new employment.
Do I Have to Do Vocational Rehabilitation?
If the workers’ compensation insurance company requires you to go through vocational rehabilitation, you have to do it. Otherwise, the amount you receive for workers’ compensation will be greatly reduced. If you fail to cooperate with your vocational rehabilitation counselor, you could lose 50% of the benefits you receive for lost wages.
“Sham” Vocational Rehabilitation
“Sham” vocational rehabilitation refers to vocational rehabilitation that only aims to end an employee’s lost wages benefits rather than actually rehabilitating them. Some examples of sham vocational rehabilitation include:
- Injured employees are only given a very limited number of job options that make around the same amount as their pre-injury earnings.
- Counselors list jobs explicitly against what the treating physician recommended.
- Jobs were never approved by the injured employee’s physician.
- Counselors aren’t given enough flexibility by insurance companies to assist the injured employees.
Sham vocational rehabilitation is very common because insurance companies are looking for ways to cut benefits to save money. Although you may not be ready to return to work, insurance companies can try to make it seem like you’re capable of working so that they can stop paying wage loss benefits.
Contact a Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
In order to fight against unscrupulous insurance companies that attempt to end lost wages benefits prematurely, you need expert Louisiana workers’ compensation lawyers at your side. Although some vocational rehabilitation counselors are well-intentioned and attempt to help injured employees find favorable work, many are primarily looking to save the workers’ compensation insurance company money.
When you hire seasoned workers’ compensation attorneys, you can ensure that your employer and their workers’ compensation insurance company pay you the full benefits you’re owed for your workplace injury or illness. If insurance companies try to cut your benefits short, your lawyer will help you with your claim benefits in or out of court.