Our present-day workers’ compensation system—although meant to compensate workers for injuries sustained during their course of employment, regardless of fault—can be so complex that it produces frustration among workers attempting to receive legitimate benefits. Prior to the implementation of workers’ compensation, if a worker was in any way responsible for his or her injury, the employer was held not at fault due to the doctrine of contributory negligence. Regardless of how hazardous workplace conditions were, injured workers were left with little recourse for recovering damages.
No-Fault Worker’s Comp Insurance Laws Passed
It was not until 1911 that the first comprehensive workers’ compensation law was passed in Wisconsin, with nine other states following suit that same year. Thirty-six additional states implemented workers’ compensation laws before the end of the decade, however the state of Mississippi held out until 1948. The basic tenet of our present system of workers’ comp is that of “no-fault” insurance. Employers participating in the system have the benefit of tort exemption for injuries covered under workers’ compensation.
Who Handles Workers’ Compensation Claims?
Claims for workers’ compensation are generally handled by legislatively created state compensation boards with the exception of five states: Alabama, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee and Wyoming. In these states, workers’ comp claims are taken directly to the courts, although special state agencies assist processing of claims. Compensation for employees injured at work are paid as wage-replacement (generally about two-thirds of the employee’s normal salary) as well as paid medical and rehabilitation costs.
Why Employers Want Injured Employees in Vocational Rehabilitation
Many employers are quite aggressive in pursuing rehabilitation for injured employees. The reason for this is simple cost-effectiveness: if a worker fails to return to work, the result could be total disability payments for life, as opposed to a worker who undergoes vocational rehabilitation and returns to work. Those injured at work could be left unable to perform normal job duties, therefore vocational rehabilitation can get those workers back on the job, at least in some type of capacity.
Vocational Rehabilitation Programs for Injured Alabama Workers
An injury at work which results in a disability could leave an Alabama worker needing assistance to secure new employment (or return to their original job and perform the same or different job duties). Following the onset of a disability, Alabama workers could need assistance preparing to get a job, finding a job and keeping that job. While workers are not required to prove negligence in order to receive compensation—since workers’ comp is no-fault—benefits are, to some extent, limited. You may be entitled to wage-loss benefits, medical expenses and vocational rehabilitation services. Vocational rehabilitation may be applicable if you are unable to perform your job duties in the same way as you could prior to your work-related accident and must train for a new career.
The state of Alabama offers two programs: The Work Incentive Partnership Assistance Grant, run by the state of Alabama, but provided by the Social Security Administration. This program is directed to those workers who receive Social Security Disability benefits. The Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services also provides vocational services for disabled individuals, with a number of offices spread throughout the state.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services Which May Be Offered
Services provided under workers’ compensation vocational rehabilitation could include such assistance as:
- Transferable skills analysis and testing;
- Resume’ and job application assistance;
- Interview coaching
- Vocational evaluation;
- Vocational counseling;
- Career counseling and guidance;
- Labor-market surveys;
- Job placement;
- Job-site assessment and accommodations;
- On-the-job training;
- Assistive technology and devices, and
- Retraining the injured worker.
Are You Required to Participate in Vocational Rehabilitation Services?
As an injured worker, you may have a responsibility to accept appropriate vocational rehabilitation services, making a valid attempt to return to suitable employment. That being said, if you are asked to participate in a vocational rehabilitation program and feel you are not physically able to do so, it could be necessary to hire an experienced Huntsville workers’ compensation attorney who is familiar with the state’s workers’ compensation laws.
Will Your Wage-Loss Benefits Continue While You Participate in Vocational Rehab?
Even if you choose to go through the vocational rehabilitation process, or your employer requests that you do so, your wage-loss benefits will not be affected. This means you will continue to receive a regular check (approximately two-thirds of your normal pay) while you are undergoing vocational rehabilitation. There is a significant incentive for your employer as well as the workers’ comp insurer to get you involved in vocational rehabilitation—if you are working, those wage-loss benefits will end. If, despite taking part in vocational rehabilitation, you are only able to work at a job paying considerably less than the job you were injured at, the difference in salary may be paid through workers’ compensation.
How Our Huntsville Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Can Help
If you find your wage-loss payments being stopped once you begin a vocational rehabilitation program, if you are pushed to accept a lower paying job, or if work restrictions set by your doctor are being ignored, it may be time to speak to a knowledgeable Huntsville workers’ comp attorney. The Huntsville Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Martinson & Beason, P.C., have helped many, many people who were having trouble navigating the Alabama workers’ compensation system. While the system is meant to be no-fault, many workers find they are denied benefits they are legally entitled to, or they are pressured by their employer to return to work in a capacity which could be detrimental to their health.
Our attorneys have a stellar reputation, with thousands of satisfied clients to our credit in addition to many important legal accolades. We have more than fifty five-star client reviews on Google, and our firm is a notable member of (and has been featured on) the Million Dollar Advocates Forum which showcases trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. If you feel workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to are being withheld, call Martinson & Beason today for a free consultation.