In 1996, Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act was amended, and Act 57 was passed.
These changes were an attempt to address the rising costs of workers’ compensation for employers without affecting the rights of injured employees.
One goal of the amendment and passing of Act 57 was to rehabilitate injured workers and help them get back into the workforce at an economic status similar to what they enjoyed prior to the disability or injury.
This may include vocational rehabilitation (VR) benefits if the injured employee isn’t able to return to the job they held prior to the injury without residual disability or restrictions.
Vocation Rehabilitation Defined
Wikipedia defines vocational rehabilitation as “a process which enables persons with functional, psychological, developmental, cognitive and emotional impairments or health disabilities to overcome barriers to accessing, maintaining or returning to employment or other useful occupation.”
Determining Earning Power and Setting a Rehab Plan
If an employee is eligible for VR, a qualified rehabilitation counselor (QRC) will interview the injured employee to determine his or her earning power. The purpose of the interview is to understand the employee’s injury and need for future medical care or treatment, to discuss work restrictions, and to develop a rehabilitation plan to get the employee back to work as quickly and smoothly as possible.
It is not limited to physical limitations, and its goal is to determine what work the employee is capable of and then place him or her in that type of job.
The goal of the plan is to promote employability and to address things like whether the employee is definitely or likely to be permanently prevented from performing their pre-injury job, whether obtaining employment with the injured employee’s current employer (where he sustained the injury) or another employer is a reasonable outcome, and what additional rehabilitation services they might need.
Rehabilitation services may include job training, physical reconditioning, or job search assistance.
Following the Progress of the Rehab Plan
As with any workers’ compensation claim benefit, it’s important that you as the employer follow the progress of the rehabilitation plan and keep in regular contact with your injured employee and the QRC. Otherwise, the claim can be drawn out and end up costing you more than it has to. Plus, the goal of a rehabilitation plan is to get the injured employee back to work whether it’s with you or another employer.
Here are 3 tools that can improve the chances of getting an employee back to work:
- Disability Status Reports
The QRC will send these to you regularly, and it’s important to read through them to make sure that the employee is making progress. If they aren’t, you may want to consider an independent vocational evaluation.
- On-the-job Training Plans
This is used to develop transferable job skills and should include information about a desired position for the employee, what they will need to qualify for the position, and expected wages.
- Written Job Offers
If you feel that your employee is ready to come back to work, you can write up a job offer that includes the position you’re offering including the tasks and wages.
Getting Back to Work is Good for Everyone
Getting an injured employee back to work as quickly and safely as possible is good for everyone – it keeps the employee active and engaged and helps lower the employer’s costs. Sometimes vocational rehabilitation is required, but as with any workers comp insurance claim, it’s important that you stay on top of it and continue to monitor your employee’s rehabilitation.
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*This blog is a summary of “Beware of Vocational Rehabilitation Costs.”