If you receive workers’ compensation for a work injury, the employer or insurance company may be able to require you to accept vocational rehabilitation services, if certain conditions are met. Refusing a legitimate request can result in suspension of your workers’ comp benefits. However, specific laws, regulations, and guidelines of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission apply. If you receive a request to attend a vocational rehabilitation meeting, you should talk with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation lawyer to prevent loss of benefits and protect your rights.
Virginia Code § 65.2-603(A)(3), which is part of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act, requires an employer to furnish “reasonable and necessary vocational rehabilitation services” when an employee is eligible for employment. Under the provision, the obligation arises only if the treating physician releases an injured worker for work, but the worker is unable to perform their previous job. Vocational rehabilitation may follow a release for light duty, when the employer cannot accommodate the light duty restrictions.
The purpose of the process is to identify transferable skills that the worker can use in different jobs and help the worker find those jobs or train the worker for a new job. Under the statute, the services may include “vocational evaluation, counseling, job coaching, job development, job placement, on-the-job training, education, and retraining.”
Section 65.2-603(B) provides that an injured worker’s unjustified refusal to accept vocational rehabilitation services bars the worker from receiving further workers’ compensation, unless the Commission determines the refusal is justified. A worker can seek Commission review of a refusal, but benefits will be suspended pending the review.
Statutory provisions, regulations, and the Vocational Rehabilitation Guidelines of the Commission apply to any request for a worker to accept rehabilitation services by an employer or the insurance company. The employer or insurance company and the worker must comply with all legal requirements and rules.
The Commission’s guidelines state that the two goals of the vocational rehabilitation process are restoring the worker to gainful employment and relieving the employer’s burden of future compensation. In the introductory statement, the Commission says the guidelines are intended “to provide understanding between the parties, facilitate appropriate vocational rehabilitation, and eliminate needless conflict and litigation.” Complex, detailed provisions in the guidelines impose obligations on the provider and the injured worker, as well as give the worker specific rights.
If you receive a request to attend a meeting, you must go to the meeting or risk suspension of your benefits. You should talk with a workers’ compensation attorney as soon as you receive a request and before you take any action. You are entitled to have your lawyer attend the first meeting with you and to consult with an attorney at any time, under section III of the guidelines.
The guidelines specifically provide that an employer or insurance company may only request the worker to engage in job development, job placement, or on-the-job training after the worker is medically released for work. However, the provider may require the worker to meet for an assessment of work potential and other related reasons before medical release.
A workers’ compensation provider is prohibited from managing the worker’s medical treatment in any manner, but monitoring treatment is not considered as management. The worker has the right to a private examination and consultation with the medical provider without the presence of the rehabilitation provider or related persons. However, the workers’ comp provider may require the worker to submit to a functional capacity evaluation, if approved by the treating doctor or an independent medical examiner.
The guidelines contain specific provisions relating to the process (section I), criteria applicable to meetings between the worker and provider (section II), the role of the worker’s attorney (section III), medical aspects of the process (section IV), and reimbursement of transportation and other costs of the worker (section V). Your consultation with your lawyer should include review of all these provisions before you begin the process.
If you are receiving workers’ compensation and receive a request to attend vocational rehabilitation meeting, do not refuse the request before you talk with a workers’ compensation attorney. Doing so could result in suspension of your benefits. If you do not have a lawyer, our Virginia workers’ comp lawyers at Renfro & Renfro provide a free initial consultation, so you pay nothing to talk with us.
Your lawyer can attend the first meeting with you and may ask that the meeting be rescheduled for no more than 10 business days after the initial contact. If your medical provider has not released you to return to light-duty work, you do not have to go to any meetings after the first one. But you should take that approach only on your lawyer’s advice.
The employer or insurance company must comply with all the requirements of the Commission guidelines throughout the process. An injured worker has the responsibility of making an effort to cooperate and participate in the process. If the provider’s request is not in compliance with the law or the Commission’s guidelines, you can ask the Commission to review the request. You should never request Commission review without assistance from a knowledgeable lawyer.
If you receive a request to attend a vocational rehabilitation meeting while you are receiving workers’ comp benefits, our experienced Virginia workers’ compensation attorneys at Renfro & Renfro are here to help. We welcome you to contact us for a free consultation.