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Vocational Rehabilitation

What is Vocational Rehabilitation?

Vocational Rehabilitation is a program for injured workers who have not returned to work. Vocational rehabilitation services involve an assessment, plan development, vocational training, and other services. Vocational retraining exists because L&I can’t close your claim until you do or “can” return to work. See RCW 51.32.095

The good and bad of L&I vocational services.

It is good that vocational services are designed to get you back to work. It is bad that this work includes any job at any rate of pay. That is a tragedy for an injured worker who can no longer perform at a good job when they are told they can be retrained as a parking lot attendant.  Don’t let L&I do that to you. Inform yourself and get legal help if you need it

Who decides if I get LNI vocational services?

If you’re working, you don’t get vocational services. If your doctor has taken you off work due to the effects of your injury, then after approximately 90 days, the Department of Labor and Industries or your Self Insured employer will ask a private vocational counselor to do an ability to work assessment to look at your employment history and skills. The vocational counselor will send their assessment report to your claims manager, to let L&I know what they think is needed, if anything, for you to return to the workforce. Based on this report, your claims manager will decide whether or not you get vocational services.

What is a vocational assessment?

The assessment is done by a vocational rehabilitation counselor (VRC) who is paid by the state or self insured employer. There are a number of items the vocational counselor must address in the vocational assessment process. Some of the things a counselor will consider are: 1) Your age, education, and work history. 2) Your transferable skills. 3) Any preexisting physical or mental conditions that may effect your ability to work. 4) The physical and mental conditions caused by your injury, and any permanent medical restrictions that arise from your injuries. 5) Your previous work pattern, full time/part time/seasonal, etc.

The vocational counselor will then use this assessment to decide if you are currently employable. You are currently employable if you  can return to work at any job with any employer, at any legal pay rate, based on your job skills, your transferrable skills, and your physical ability.

How does L&I decide if I qualify for vocational services?

Before an injured worker gets retraining he/she must be unable to return to work with his/her employer of injury, in the same or modified position, regardless of pay or benefits. Washington does not have a comparable wage law. Therefore, if the injured worker is physically capable of returning to some form of work with the employer of injury, even at wages that are significantly lower than that earned at the time of injury, he/she is not entitled to vocational retraining.

Further, even if you can not return to work for your employer of injury, vocational retraining will not be provided if you are physically able to return to a position performed at some point in the past, or if you have sufficient transferable skills to allow you to return to the workforce in any gainful capacity. For example a construction worker making $40.00 per hour at the time of the industrial injury may not be entitled to vocational retraining if in the past, he/she worked as a pizza delivery driver, earning minimum wage and it is determined that this worker is now physically capable of being a delivery driver.

However if the assessment report indicates you do not meet any of the above return to work priorities then L&I should conclude that you are not employable and that you will likely benefit form vocational services. Your next step will be vocational plan development.

What happens if I do not qualify for vocational services?

A great deal of effort is placed in the assessment phase of the vocational process. If even one of the return to work priorities is approved, it will be determined that you, the injured worker, are “employable” and not in need of vocational retraining. If you are found even minimally “employable” by the vocational assessment you will find your time loss cut off and the claims manager will then move the claim on to final resolution and claim closure.

Can I dispute L&I’s denial of vocational services?

L&I vocational decisions can be disputed.

The dispute is a formal disagreement with L&I’s decision about vocational services. Information about how, when, and why to dispute can be found at Disputing a Vocational Decision.

Can I apply for school on my own? 

You can apply for and attend school on your own. This is something you may wish to consider because L&I may not supply you with adequate and timely vocational help. Applying for school on your own is better than being on time loss and staring at the wall. L&I should like it because its a benefit to them to have you trained. If you can’t afford school yourself, consider getting help from  DVR, Pell Grants, or FAFSA.

What is L&I plan development?

Once it has been determined that vocational services will be provided, L&I plan development starts. Plan development necessitates on interaction between you, the injured worker and L&I’s choice of vocational counselor.

In theory, you two individuals will work together to develop a vocational rehabilitation plan designed to help the injured worker become “employable at gainful employment.” Under Washington Law, however, there are no guarantees of employment at the completion of the plan. Vocational counselors need not find an injured worker a job. They need only establish that the injured worker is employable. Call for legal advice immediately if you are not sure you are being treated fairly.

There are very strict time lines that you must be aware of when entering into plan development. The vocational plan for an individual worker must be completed and submitted to the department within ninety (90) days of the day the worker commences vocational plan development.

Any plan must be approved through the Department or self insured employer. There are very strict time lines that you will be asked to cooperate with in plan development. Unforseen complications can cause delays, and the delays can complicate or ruin a good plan. Try and help move things along – for your own benefit.

My employer just made me a job offer, can they do this now?

Yes they can, but you will want to be sure it is a valid job offer. On the date the worker commences vocational plan development, the department or self insured employer shall also inform the employer in writing of the employer’s right to make a valid return-to-work offer during the first fifteen days following the commencement of vocational plan development. To be valid the offer must be for bona fide gainful employment with the employer of injury, consistent with the workers documented physical and mental restrictions.

If this happens time loss money will be cut off effective on the starting date for the job without regard to whether the worker accepts the return-to-work offer.

If your employer offers a bogus job and you think he will fire you as soon as you return to work or the claim closes, talk to an attorney.

What kind of L&I job training can I get?

Workers should start thinking early about their vocational futures and take the lead in investigation of alternative types of employment. When injured workers understand early on in the process that L&I job retraining benefits are available, they can focus on successful alternatives

The vocational benefits law is set out in RCW 51.32.099

Costs for vocational plans may include books, tuition, fees, supplies, equipment, child or dependent care, training fees for on-the-job training, the cost of furnishing tools and other equipment necessary for self-employment or reemployment, and other necessary expenses.  The maximum retraining cost is adjusted July 1 each year and the new amount is available for plans approved on or after July 1. 

The duration of the vocational plan shall not exceed two years from the date the plan is implemented.

L&I demands a certain level of cooperation with vocational plans. See Your Rights and Responsibilities during Plan Implementation. 

Do I continue to get time loss if I’m getting L&I job retraining?

Yes, the worker shall receive time loss compensation under RCW 51.32.090 and the cost of transportation while he/she is actively and successfully participating in LNI job retraining.

What if I don’t want to start my retraining plan right away?

Vocational plan development services are completed within ninety days of commencing. Once the plan is approved, you will have two options.  Within fifteen (15) days of approval of the plan you must choose your option.  Choosing which option is right for you is really important, you need to fully understand how your selection will effect your benefits.

Option 1: 

The worker participates in the vocational plan developed by the vocational counselor. The maximum retraining benefit is two years. Temporary total disability compensation (time loss) continues for the duration of the approved plan.

Option 2: 

The worker declines further vocational services under the claim, medical treatment ends, time loss ends and the claim closes. The worker is paid settlement money in an amount equal to nine months of time loss compensation under RCW 51.32.090. The award is payable in biweekly payments in accordance with the schedule of temporary total disability payments, even if the worker has returned to work.  The worker can request a lump sum. 

The vocational money remains available for use by the worker for a period of five years. The vocational money is made available by application, for programs or courses at any accredited or licensed institution and can be used for tuition, books fees, etc., without department or self-insurer oversight. Option 2 can only be elected once per worker.

These links will provide you more information about your Training Options and Option 2 

What happens when my plan is over?

Once the vocational rehabilitation is done, either by plan completion or election of option 2, the department will terminate time loss benefits. The department will thereafter close the claim with any permanent partial disability award indicated.

Job Modifications

An injured worker with an open claim and a job or job offer, who has restrictions due to their accepted concision(s), may qualify for job modifications assistance. Job modifications are an adjustment or alteration to the way a job is performed. it often involves the purchase or modification of tools or equipment.  See RCW 51.32.095 (5), WAC 296-19A-180 and WAC 296-19A-010(9) for the law.  See our Job Modifications section for further explanation of this benefit. 

Pre Job Accommodations

Pre job accommodations are alterations or adjustments made to the way a job will be performed, to accommodate the restrictions imposed by the job injury or occupational disease. The purpose is to make it possible for the worker to perform the essential functions of a job.

To successfully apply, the injured worker cannot have a job, rather, they should be engaged in a job search or vocational rehabilitation plan, WAC 296-19A-010(10): See our Pre-Job Accommodations section for further explanation of this benefit. 

CRSSA

This is a compromise and release of the entire L&I claim into a structured settlement agreement. It can be seen as another option to handle the closing of an L&I claim.  See Claims Resolution Structured Settlement Agreements. 

Stay at Work Program

The stay at work program is a benefit to employers and provides money reimbursement to State Fund employers who offer transitional or light duty work to their injured workers. Several limitations apply, including a maximum of 66 work days of reimbursement. 

What’s Next?