Can you receive job assistance services through workers’ compensation if you’ve been hurt at work?
When someone is injured on the job, they may not be able to return to the work they were doing before their injury. Or the injury may leave them with permanent physical and emotional limitations, unable to work at all. In such cases Georgia workers’ compensation law allows catastrophically injured workers to receive vocational rehabilitation benefits provided for by their employer.
Were you recently hurt on the job in Athens or Atlanta and want to know about your legal rights when it comes to receiving vocational rehabilitation and training? If so, it’s essential that you contact an experienced work injury lawyer who understands Georgia law and can fight to get the full workers’ compensation benefits you’re owed.
What is vocational rehabilitation?
The state of Georgia defines vocational rehabilitation as rehabilitation which provides individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities help with obtaining and/or maintain employment in a competitive integrated work site. Simply put, vocational rehabilitation gives injured workers the opportunity to receive the training they need to transition to a new job or career that is able to accommodate their injury or disability.
Furthermore, the state defines vocational rehabilitation (O.C.G.A. 34-15-1(D)(13)) as “any service, provided directly or through public or private instrumentalities, found by the director to be necessary to compensate a person with disabilities for his or her disability to employment and to enable such individual to engage in a remunerative occupation.”
Common examples of vocational rehabilitation services and tests include:
- Educational programs and tuition payment for retraining
- Vocational evaluations
- Career counseling
- On-the-job training
- Job placement services (resume assistance/interview coaching)
- Refresher courses
- Consulting with potential employers about job accommodation, workplace modifications and ergonomics
- Wage assessment evaluation
These services are important for workers who have a disability that prevents them from working in the same capacity as they once did. The employer provide these services at no cost to the injured worker; however, this is not always required.
When is vocational rehabilitation covered in Georgia?
Whether or not vocational rehabilitation benefits are covered by workers’ compensation depends on the nature of your work-related injury—namely, if the injury is considered “catastrophic” or not.
In the state of Georgia, workers’ compensation rules are such that employers in Atlanta must offer vocational rehabilitation benefits to employees who sustain catastrophic work injuries. Injuries are considered catastrophic if they are so severe that it prevents the employee from being able to perform his or her work—or any type of work he or she is qualified to do that is commonly available.
Examples of catastrophic work injuries include:
- Severe burns
- Severe head injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Total blindness
- Amputation of a leg, foot, arm or hand
- Severe spinal cord injury involving paralysis
Unfortunately, Georgia doesn’t require workers’ compensation insurance companies to provide workers with vocational rehabilitation if their injury is classified as “non-catastrophic.” In these cases, Georgia only requires that an injured worker receives compensation for medical treatment for their on-the-job injury, a permanent partial impairment rating, and indemnity benefits for lost wages if:
- the injured workers cannot work,
- the employer cannot accommodate their work restrictions, or
- the injured worker is earning less as a result of their on the job injury.
Even though they are not required to do so, some employers will offer vocational rehabilitation services for workers who suffer non-catastrophic injuries in an effort to help them rejoin the workforce.
What is the employee responsible for?
Vocational rehabilitation benefits are a two-way street. Since the employer is required by law to offer vocational rehab services for catastrophic work-related injuries, the receiving employee must use them. The benefiting employee must make an effort to learn new skills and find new employment, despite their newfound disability. Failure to comply on the part of the injured worker could put their workers’ compensation benefits at risk.
What to expect during vocational rehabilitation process
Often, injured employees are worried that their income replacement benefits will stop if they use vocational rehabilitation. If the injured employee was catastrophically injured, he or she will receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits until their condition improves or until they can return to a job. If they earn less money at their new job than they earned at their old job, then they will receive temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits. The TPD payment should amount to two-thirds of the difference between the weekly wage prior to injury and new weekly wage at the new job, post-injury.
If your injury is catastrophic, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency offers a team of professionals who work on your behalf to obtain/maintain employment in a “competitive integrated work site.” These professionals are there to assist with providing assessment for eligibility, planning for employment and career exploration. The state-sponsored program also offers disability management through counseling, treatments or therapies, training to enhance skills and job search assistance.
To begin vocational rehabilitation, one of the first things you’ll do is complete a vocational assessment given by your assigned vocational counselor. This assessment is a mixture of written tests, work samples and conversations with your counselor. The goals of this assessment are to create a personalized vocational assistance plan as determined by your physical and intellectual abilities, your skills and interests, your transferable skills and your vocational goals.
Contact an experienced Atlanta workers’ compensation attorney
Determining if a work-related injury is considered catastrophic or whether the employer can or will provide vocational rehabilitation services is often difficult and confusing. If you’re unsure about your rights and obligations under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law, including which benefits are available to you, then contact the experienced work injury lawyers at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys to schedule your free consultation.