Many injured workers will be asked to participate in vocational rehabilitation by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. This is where the carrier hires a vocational rehabilitation company to find or, identify work that an injured worker can do despite their work restrictions. The goal of the carrier in doing vocational rehabilitation is to try to reduce or suspended the worker’s compensation based on an earning capacity that is establish by locating other jobs that the worker might be able to do. The process works one of two ways. The vocational rehabilitation company can locate and then refer the injured worker actual jobs openings within their restrictions either with the time of injury employer or, with another employer. This method is referred to as traditional job development or the Kachinski-method, named after the seminal case that established the standard for reducing or suspending an injured worker’s wage loss benefits by showing the availability of other work. Actual job openings are sent to the injured worker using this approach which the injured worker is then required to submit a resume, a job application or, schedule a job interview. If the injured worker fails to follow up of the job openings that are referred to him by the vocational company, the worker is giving the insurance carrier a basis for filing a petition asking a Judge to reduce or suspend their wage loss benefits based on what they would have earned if they applied and, were hired for the job. If the injured worker follows up on a particular job opening and is hired, the earnings from the new job will offset, reduce or suspend their wage loss benefits based on the wages earned in the new job.
The second form of vocational rehabilitation is done through a labor marker survey (LMS). This method of vocational rehabilitation was created by Act 57 in 1996 when there were major changes made to the Pa Workers’ Compensation Act, primarily due to the strong lobbying efforts by big business. This method makes it easier for an insurance company to stop or reduce an injured worker’s wage loss benefits because all they have to do is show that there is the “possibility“ of work in the general labor market that the worker can do despite their restrictions caused by the work injury. In other words, no actual job opening needs to be sent to the injured worker using this method. The workers’ compensation insurance carrier only needs to have the vocational rehabilitation company that they hire prepare a Labor Market Survey (LMS) report showing that jobs exist in the general labor market that the injured worker can do even with their work restrictions, if they chose to look for work. Then based on the earning capacity established in the “potential, ” though not actual job opportunities, the insurance company can file a petition against the injured worker to stop or reduce their weekly wage loss check.
Insurance companies typically start vocational rehabilitation when they cannot prove that an injured worker is fully recovered from their work injury but, they can prove that the worker is recovered enough to be able to do some kind of work. An injured worker is legally obligated to cooperate with the insurance company’s vocational efforts or run the risk of having their compensation stopped or reduced regardless of the success of the insurance company’s vocational efforts. You should immediately speak with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer when a vocational rehabilitation company hired by the carrier contacts you to try and find you work. An experienced compensation lawyer can help you navigate through what can be a very technical process. Know your rights!