Vocational Rehabilitation in Massachusetts
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, vocational rehabilitation service is a program run by the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA). It is designed to return injured workers to work so they can earn as close as possible to what they were making before suffering a debilitating injury. Unlike other workers’ compensation programs and services, vocational rehabilitation services assist with all non-medical needs of injured workers who need to get back in the workforce.
Some of these vocational rehabilitation services include:
- Evaluating your working capacity
- Workplace modifications
- Help with job searches, employment applications and resumes
- Interview coaching
- Job training for an existing job or a new one
- Education or training
The DIA, specifically the Office of Education and Vocational Rehabilitation Services (OEVR), will review your medical records, educational background, and employment history when deciding if you will benefit from vocational rehabilitation services. Good candidates for vocational services have a workers’ compensation insurance company that has accepted liability, are medically stable, and suffer from some permanent functional limitations. In addition, vocational rehabilitation services must be both feasible and cost-effective.
Whenever possible, OEVR attempts to place employees who receive vocational rehabilitation with their same job and same employer.
However, that’s frequently not possible. As a result, OEVR will consider other options, such as:
- If the employee is unable to return to the same job, whether a job modification allowing the employee to return to the same employer is possible.
- If that’s unsuccessful, an effort will be made to locate a different job with the same employer.
- If that’s unsuccessful, an effort will be made to locate a different job with a different employer.
- If that’s unsuccessful, the employee might be able to receive retraining, including special classes or certifications if necessary.
Sometimes the vocational rehabilitation process will involve sending a disabled worker to school to learn an entirely different occupation. This only happens if it’s not feasible for the worker to return to his or her prior job, even with modifications to account for physical disability. While retraining is considered an option of last resort by OEVR, it does happen on a regular basis, and you should discuss your feelings about this process with your workers’ compensation attorney.Injuries Entitling an Employee to Vocational Rehabilitation
What type of work injury qualifies an employee for vocational rehabilitation services? Most workers who qualify for vocational services have suffered a work injury that has resulted in permanent functional limitations. Employees who suffer injuries that heal quickly, like soft tissue injuries or minor back injuries, would most likely not qualify for VR services.
Employees who suffer more significant injuries may qualify VR services. Some typical qualifying injuries include:
- An amputation or crushing injury that prevents a worker from using a major extremity
- Hand or wrist injuries with significant lacerations or tendon damage
- A spinal cord injury that causes significant movement limitations
- A head injury or a traumatic brain injury that causes a neurological impairment
- Vision loss
- Hearing loss
In certain cases, injured employees are entitled to mechanical devices such as an artificial eye or limb to allow them to continue with their work. See M.G.L. c.152, § 30.
In addition to the severity of your injury, other factors OEVR considers include:
- The age of the employee, as older workers tend to qualify more often than younger ones.
- The work history of the employee. Those that have worked in a limited line of work for many years (such as manual labor) often find it harder to find new work.
- The employee’s fluency in the English language.
- The educational background of the employee. Typically, an injured worker must have a high school diploma or GED.
The legal team at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, LLC believes vocational retraining services can be an excellent path for injured workers to reenter the workforce. As your case progresses, you may receive a notice to meet with a vocational rehabilitation services officer at the Department of Industrial Accidents. If you receive such a notice, you should speak with your attorney as soon as possible to discuss what will occur.
It’s crucial that you don’t disregard this notice or skip the vocational rehabilitation services meeting. If you do, the insurance company may reduce or terminate your workers’ compensation benefits. For any injured worker, losing that source of income is the last thing you want or can afford to see happen.
During your meeting, a DIA vocational counselor will interview you to determine if you’re a suitable candidate for vocational rehabilitation services. Within a few days, they issue a brief report with their findings. If you’re found to be a suitable candidate for vocational rehabilitation, a vocational counselor will be assigned to your case that the insurance company will have to pay for. If you’re approved and you refuse to participate in the process, your benefits may be reduced by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier after obtaining permission from the DIA.
It’s extremely beneficial for claimants to have an attorney representing them during a workers’ compensation case. Your attorney can help to ensure you receive notice of any vocational retraining meetings, can answer any questions that may arise, and can help to coordinate the services to ensure the best possible outcome. Your attorney will be on your side, fighting for your right to workers’ compensation benefits.
If you’re injured on the job in Massachusetts, contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers' compensation claim at (617) 367-2900 or complete our online form.