While some workers are able to return to work after a workplace injury, others suffer permanent limitations that prevent them from doing their former job duties. Workers in physically demanding occupations may find this especially challenging because they may not have transferrable job skills that would enable them to make a career change. In this very tight job market, having the correct skill set for a particular position can be critical in obtaining new employment. An employee could find it helpful to utilize vocational rehabilitation services through his workers’ compensation benefits to obtain counseling and job retraining.

How Vocational Rehabilitation Services Works

Injured worker meeting with vocational counselorVocational rehabilitation agencies and counselors help injured workers prepare for, get, and retain a new job and retrain for a new position if necessary. In New Jersey, injured workers may be entitled to these services under workers’ compensation laws. The goals of vocational rehabilitation are to:

  • Return the employee to his former position or to another one
  • Reduce the employer’s future payment of workers’ compensation benefits

A vocational rehabilitation counselor—sometimes referred to as a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant—is a person who has specialized education and skills in helping people become employed. The process usually begins with an initial evaluation that includes reviewing the worker’s education, job training, work history, medical condition, and limitations on the duties he can perform. The counselor may provide the following services:

  • Determining eligibility to be certain the worker qualifies for benefits
  • Assessing the person’s vocational needs, such as his skills, interests, and the support he could need
  • Creating an individualized plan for employment outlining the worker’s plan of action and the services that will be provided
  • Coordinating services for the worker as needed
  • Providing post-employment services to help the injured worker retain his new job

The Benefits of a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

A vocational rehabilitation counselor will initially consider a worker’s return to work options before moving on to retraining for a new job. Issues the counselor and worker may explore include:

  • Can the person return to his job without assistance?
  • Can the person’s job be modified so he can perform its duties?
  • Does the person’s employer have another job the injured worker could move into?
  • Does the employee have the necessary job skills to transfer to a new position?
  • Can the employee find another job?
  • Is the employee able to train for a new job?

The counselor will design an individualized plan for employment that would hopefully be tailored to the worker’s needs. An employee could receive some of these services:

  • Vocational counseling and assistance
  • Assistance with job placement
  • College or vocational training
  • Skills training
  • Job coaching, such as resume writing and interview practice
  • Transportation
  • Assistive and rehabilitation technology tailored to individual disabilities
  • Referral services
  • Post-employment counseling and follow-up services

Counselors do not usually recommend retraining that involves a university education as this is an expensive and time-consuming option.

Not all workers find working with a vocational rehabilitation counselor provided through workers’ compensation helpful. However, counselors who are really dedicated to helping the employee and not just saving the employer money can assist in the following ways:

  • They can negotiate return-to-work restrictions with the employer.
  • They can inform employers of their obligations to make workplace accommodations under federal and state laws.
  • They can devise a return-to-work plan that can include features like a graduated return to work or workplace modifications that take into consideration the employee’s physical limitations.
  • They can work with the employer and employee on needed workplace accommodations.
  • In limited circumstances, they can assist the worker in obtaining services, such as ergonomic specialists, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists who may be able to provide alternate solutions to the employee’s problems.

If you are sent to a vocational rehabilitation counselor, you must cooperate with this person to avoid risking losing your workers’ compensation benefits. It is important to remember that this specialist communicates with your employer’s insurance company and may have a working relationship with the person handling your claim. You do not want your counselor conveying any information harmful to your workers’ compensation case to your adjuster, so you need to be careful what you say.

Were you injured in a workplace accident? Call me at 877-360-0183 today to schedule a free consultation to learn about the workers’ comp benefits you could be entitled to.

Manfred Ricciardelli
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Morristown Workers' Compensation Lawyer