By Nicole Morrison
Serious injuries can lead to permanent limitations that might not allow you to return to your former job. This is particularly true if you do heavy, strenuous work. What happens if your injury prevents you from returning to the same kind of work? An employer has two choices. The first option is to provide you with a job that fits your restrictions. The second choice is created under Section 8(a) of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, which requires an employer to provide “treatment, instruction, and training necessary for [your] physical, mental, and vocational rehabilitation”. Thus, if you have been in a work accident and now have permanent restrictions that your employer cannot accommodate, your employer is obligated to assist you while seeking work or provide job retraining.
Your weekly benefits will continue to be paid as long as you participate in the vocational rehabilitation process. The workers’ compensation benefits are called “maintenance benefits” rather than “TTD” or “temporary total disability”, but they are paid at the same rate as your TTD benefits. In addition to the assistance, instruction, and training you receive while engaged in vocational rehabilitation, you are also entitled to reimbursement for any incidental costs you incur. Such costs include printing and mailing resumes, faxing resumes, placing telephone calls to potential employers, and travel expenses for interviews. These costs can add up over time, so it is important to document and keep track of these expenses so that you do not miss out on any compensation to which you are entitled.
The ultimate goal of vocational rehabilitation is to get an employee back into the workforce earning the highest wages possible. In some cases, this means that your employer is required to pay for job retraining or education. Any vocational rehabilitation plan must be realistic based on factors such as your work-life expectancy, your ability and motivation to participate in the program, the success or failure of previous vocational rehabilitation efforts, and the likelihood of obtaining employment on the completion of your retraining or education. The bottom line is that if you have lost earning power or job security due to your injuries, you are willing and able to participate in vocational rehabilitation, and you will have increased earning power and a better chance of finding a job after retraining or education, you are entitled to retraining or education.
If you are severely injured and cannot return to work in the same capacity, your employer cannot cut off your benefits by merely claiming that you are qualified to work at another job. The employer must either provide you with a job that fits your restrictions or be a part of the solution and help retrain you for a job that you are capable of performing.