What is a Vocational Rehab in North Carolina Workers Compensation?
Once an injured employee in North Carolina reaches Maximum Medical Improvement they are medically evaluated. This evaluation is utilized to determine if the employee has permanent restrictions.
If this evaluation discovers that the injured employee suffered a permanent disability and that disability doesn’t allow them to return to work with the employer then they will be entitled to Vocational Rehabilitation.
Vocational Rehabilitation is a process that is utilized to assist the injured employee to get back to work within the restrictions discovered by the medical evaluation.
As an example, let’s say John was working at full duty and suffered an injury at work. After his medical evaluation, the medical professional determines a permanent restriction of “no lifting over 50 pounds.” Due to this restriction, John is not able to return to his position with the company he worked for when he was injured.
At this point, the Vocational Rehabilitation process may begin to see if they can find suitable employment for John.
Suitable employment is available employment within the general marketplace that is within the injured employee’s education, training, experience, and most importantly within their permanent restrictions that have been medically assigned.
Does the Vocational Rehabilitation have to find a job that is equal in pay to the position held at time of injury?
Unfortunately in North Carolina, finding employment at equal salary before injury is not required.
Using John as example again, prior to his injury, he was making $75,000 a year. After his injury and being assigned permanent restrictions and going through the Vocational Rehab process, suitable employment was found for him that had a yearly salary of $50,000 a year. The North Carolina Industrial Commission may determine this is suitable employment.
Even though John is making $25,000 less a year, he would be entitled to 66% of the difference between to two yearly salaries. The insurance company would have to pay John 66% of $25,000.
Who will the injured employee have to meet with during Vocational Rehab?
During the Vocational Rehabilitation process, the insurance company will hire a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor.
This individual has to have certain qualifications, experience, credentials, and has to be registered with the North Carolina Industrial Commission to be able to perform this service for injured employees.
What does the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor do for the injured employer?
Normally, after a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor is assigned, they will perform an initial assessment with the injured employee.
The initial assessment will normally include obtaining the injured worker’s work history, receiving updates on their Maximum Medical Improvement status, and they discuss the disability sustained as the result of the work injury.
During this assessment, they may also discuss disabilities that were not the result of the work injury. The Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor is getting a “full picture” of everything about the person, so items like this will have to be discussed to accomplish the task they were hired to perform.
Once all this information is gathered, the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor may perform a Job Market Survey. A Job Market Survey attempts to discover available opportunities in the general job market within 50 miles of the injured employees residence.
If they determine there is job viability, they may begin Vocational Rehabilitation services.
During this process, they will meet with the injured employee approximately once or twice every other week to assess how the injured employee is doing in terms of trying to find a job.
Does The Injured Employee just wait for the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to find them a job?
While the North Carolina Industrial Commission requires the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to provide job access in terms of applications and other avenues to seek employment, it is also required that the injured employee participates in this process.
It is not a situation where the injured employee waits around for the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to simply find them employment.
Active participation by the injured employee is required to continue receiving Temporary Total Disability benefits.
It is possible for the insurance company to seek to terminate or suspend the injured employees benefits for lack of cooperation through the vocational rehabilitation process.