Understand when you may be entitled to
vocational rehabilitation benefits
after a work injury in Charlotte
Workers’ compensation plays a crucial role after a work-related injury or illness, offering a lifeline that helps employees navigate their way back to health and productive employment. Among these benefits, vocational rehabilitation stands out as a cornerstone for individuals facing partial disabilities.
Partial disability can leave workers in a precarious position, capable of some form of work but unable to perform the tasks they once did. This is where vocational rehabilitation becomes indispensable. It’s designed to bridge the gap between an employee’s current capabilities and their potential to re-enter the workforce in a new, suitable role.
By equipping injured workers with the necessary tools, training and support to adapt to new job demands or find alternate employment, vocational rehabilitation doesn’t just aim to restore a portion of the worker’s previous income; it aims to restore their sense of purpose, dignity and self-reliance in the workplace.
If you’ve recently suffered a serious work injury that left you unable to return to your previous level of employment and need help obtaining vocational rehabilitation through workers’ compensation, the Charlotte work injury attorneys at Wilder Pantazis Law Group can help.
Reach out to schedule a free consultation to learn more about your rights.
What is vocational rehabilitation?
Vocational rehabilitation in the context of workers’ compensation refers to services that help injured workers who are unable to return to their previous jobs due to their injuries. These services aim to assist workers in finding new employment that accommodates their physical capabilities or provide them with the training and education necessary to gain new skills for different roles.
So, what’s the primary goal of vocational rehabilitation?
The overall goal is to enable these individuals to re-enter the workforce and earn a wage comparable to their pre-injury earnings.
What types of work injuries, illnesses and diseases might require vocational rehabilitation?
Any occupational injury, illness or disease that results in a permanent limitation preventing a worker’s return to their previous job role or working capacity can necessitate vocational rehabilitation. Some of the most common include:
- Spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries can lead to significant and permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury. This may result in partial or complete paralysis. Vocational rehabilitation can help individuals adapt to new limitations and train for a different job that is accessible and accommodating to their mobility needs.
- Amputations. Loss of a limb can drastically alter an individual’s ability to perform their previous work duties, especially if it involves manual labor. Vocational rehab can offer prosthesis training, job retraining, and help in finding employment that is compatible with the individual’s new physical capabilities.
- Brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries can affect cognitive functions, physical capabilities, behavior and emotional well-being. Vocational rehabilitation for brain injury survivors might focus on cognitive retraining and identifying employment opportunities that align with any new cognitive or physical limitations.
- Severe burns. Severe burns can lead to extensive scarring, limited mobility and the need for long-term medical care. Vocational rehab can help burn survivors re-enter the workforce in a role that suits their recovery status and personal comfort.
- Hearing loss. Occupational hearing loss can hinder communication, which is essential in most jobs. Vocational rehabilitation might involve training in new forms of communication, such as sign language, and finding employment in an environment where hearing loss does not significantly impact job performance.
- Vision loss. Losing vision can prevent individuals from performing tasks that require sight. Vocational rehabilitation can assist with the acquisition of new skills, such as learning to use assistive technology, and help workers find jobs that can be performed without vision.
- Certain repetitive stress disorders. Repetitive stress disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can limit hand and wrist movement, making many tasks difficult. Vocational rehab can offer ergonomic assessments, job modification suggestions and retraining for roles that do not exacerbate the condition.
- Severe respiratory diseases. Respiratory diseases may limit an individual’s ability to perform physically demanding tasks, especially if their condition is triggered by substances or toxins in their work environment. Vocational rehab can help find roles that are less physically strenuous or in environments that are free from respiratory irritants.
With each of these injuries or illnesses, the goal of vocational rehab is to enable these individuals to achieve gainful employment in a new field or position that accommodates any lasting impairments, ensuring their continued participation in the workforce.
What types of services are offered to injured workers through vocational rehabilitation in NC?
In North Carolina, workers’ compensation vocational rehabilitation provides a variety of services designed to help injured workers acquire new skills and jobs. These services can include:
- Vocational evaluation. This involves assessing an individual’s work history, skills, interests and physical capabilities to identify suitable employment opportunities.
- Career exploration. Injured workers are assisted in exploring new career paths that align with their current physical and mental abilities.
- Specialized training programs. This includes training in protected or community-supported workplaces that are tailored to those with disabilities or limitations.
- Guidance and counseling. Professional counselors provide support and advice to help workers navigate their career paths post-injury.
- Employment development and placement. Vocational professionals assist in finding suitable job openings and help with the placement process.
- Educational programs. Opportunities for further education or training through community colleges or universities in North Carolina can be provided to help injured workers qualify for different types of jobs than they had pre-injury.
- Skill transfer analysis. This involves an assessment of skills acquired in previous employment to determine if they can be transferred to new job roles.
- Market research. Surveys are conducted to understand the current labor market in your area, including demand for specific roles and skills.
- Workplace analysis and modification. This service examines current job duties and worksites to determine necessary modifications that can accommodate an employee’s limitations.
- Job search assistance. Training is provided on how to effectively search for jobs, including resume writing and interview preparation.
- Skills and psychological assessments. Vocational and psychometric tests are used to measure abilities, aptitudes and interests, aiding in career planning.
- Hands-on job training. On-the-job training opportunities are available to allow workers to gain new skills in a real-world setting.
- Adjustment counseling. Workers can receive counseling to help them adjust to new work environments or job roles.
These services collectively aim to enhance the employability of workers who have sustained injuries and aid in their transition to new work roles that accommodate their physical or cognitive limitations, keeping their incomes as close as possible to what they were before.
What’s involved in a vocational rehabilitation assessment?
Before beginning vocational rehabilitation, an assessment needs to be done to determine which services might be most beneficial in helping an injured worker return to work. The process involves:
- Assessing the worker. A vocational rehab professional reviews the worker’s medical condition, job skills, and employment needs.
- Interviewing. A one-on-one meeting is conducted between the vocational rehab professional and the workers to better understand the worker’s job goals and training needs.
- Creating a plan. Based on the worker’s limitations, skills and experience, a plan is made for retraining, education, or job placement. This plan can change if both the worker and the rehab professional agree.
The employer’s workers’ compensation insurer ultimately pays for any services included in the plan, just as they do for any medical treatments prescribed by the approved health care provider.
Who is eligible for vocational rehabilitation in NC?
In North Carolina, workers who haven’t gone back to their job after an injury or who have returned but are making less than 75% of their pre-injury weekly pay while on partial disability benefits may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services.
Who can request vocational training?
In the event of a compensable claim, an employer can initiate vocational rehabilitation services at any stage of the claim process as long as the employee is not determined to have a total disability. This can be done even if the employee has not yet attained maximum medical improvement (MMI) and may cover various services, including an assessment of the employee’s vocational capabilities.
An employee can also request vocational rehabilitation if they either have not resumed work or have returned to work but are earning less than 75% of their average weekly wages while receiving partial disability benefits.
What if my employer refuses my request for vocational rehab?
If an employer in North Carolina refuses an employee’s request for vocational rehabilitation services, the employee can seek recourse through the Industrial Commission. The employee may file a formal request with the Commission, which will then review the case.
If the Commission determines that vocational rehabilitation services are warranted and would likely enhance the employee’s wage-earning capacity, it can order the employer to provide such services.
In cases of disputes, employees should consult with a workers’ compensation attorney to assist with the process and ensure their rights are protected.
Do I have to participate in vocational rehabilitation if my employer asks me to?
In North Carolina, if you’re receiving workers’ compensation due to a workplace injury or illness and are asked to participate in vocational rehabilitation, you’ll likely need to comply as part of your ongoing eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits. Refusal to participate without a valid reason could result in the termination of your benefits.
However, each situation is unique, and there may be legitimate reasons for not participating or for requiring modifications to the vocational rehabilitation plan.
If you believe that the vocational rehabilitation services being offered are not suitable, you should get advice from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney before refusing to participate. They can provide guidance on your rights and obligations and help you navigate any disputes or disagreements that arise.
Get help from a knowledgeable North Carolina work injury attorney
If you’re navigating the complexities of workers’ compensation and considering vocational rehabilitation, don’t settle for less than you deserve. With over 85 years of combined experience in work injury law, the attorneys at Wilder Pantazis Law Group in Charlotte are equipped to guide you through every step of the process.
Our dedicated team understands the nuances of North Carolina workers’ compensation laws and is committed to advocating for your rights. Contact us today for a free consultation, and take the first step toward safeguarding your future after a workplace injury.
§97-32.2. Vocational rehabilitation. (n.d.). www.ic.nc.gov. Retrieved November 7, 2023, from https://www.ic.nc.gov/ncic/pages/statute/97-322.htm