Vocational rehabilitation for Maryland Workers’ Compensation claimants
The Workers’ Compensation system provides financial support for many injured workers to complete vocational rehabilitation plans to help them return to the workforce.
After a work-related injury, a Workers’ Compensation recipient can find themselves in a variety of circumstances. They may be able to recover and return to their job. However, that may not be the outcome. If they become disabled from doing the same job, they may qualify for vocational rehabilitation services as part of their Workers’ Compensation benefit entitlement.
Vocational services works in steps, as outlined by the Workers’ Compensation statute, with the assistance of an assigned Vocational Counselor. The program may develop modifications to the job making it possible for the claimant to return to the same employer but in a different position that may be available. If the claimant is not able to return to employment with his previous employer, the worker could use transferrable skills to work a different job with a new employer that they could perform despite the injury or illness. This is referred to as “Job Search.”
If Job Search is unsuccessful, up to two years of retraining is available for a job in a different discipline or industry, or that requires new skills compatible with a claimant’s limitations from their work injury or illness. Unless agreed to by the employer/insurer, the above services may require a Hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) for approval.
Legal counsel advisable
It may seem straightforward to begin a rehabilitation program. In actuality, the process in Maryland Workers’ Compensation statutes (link goes to the first relevant section) is somewhat complex, involving factual, professional and legal analysis and decision making. Guidance by an experienced attorney can be beneficial throughout this process.
Nuts and bolts
A claimant who cannot return to their old job may request approval from their employer (or the employer’s insurer) to begin the vocational rehabilitation process. The request must include a medical document stating that the claimant can no longer perform the duties of their job.
Vocational rehabilitation expenses are the responsibility of the employer or its insurance company. A claimant or their attorney may be able to negotiate this issue, but if the insurer refuses to approve the request for services, the claimant may ask for a hearing before the Maryland WCC. The Commission will decide if the services would be appropriate and, if so, order the insurer to cover it.
Vocational rehabilitation planning
Any private provider of vocational rehabilitation services that wants to serve Workers’ Compensation claimants must register with the WCC. Otherwise, the provider cannot receive payment. The claimant may also work with rehabilitation practitioners at the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS).
First, the claimant sits down for an interview with their vocational counselor to assess all relevant vocational factors in the claimant’s life such as “economic, educational, legal, medical, social, and vocational circumstances … including the present mental and physical ability” of the claimant. The vocational professional develops a custom rehabilitative plan to “return the disabled covered employee to suitable gainful employment.”
According to Maryland statute, vocational services may include:
- Coordination with medical services
- Plan development
- Plan monitoring
- Job development
- Job placement
Both the worker and the employer/insurer must agree to the vocational assessment and plan, or a Commissioner must approve it. While the claimant participates in their approved plan, they are eligible to receive wage replacement payments at the Temporary Total Disability (TTD) rate.