After a work injury, what happens if I can't return to my old job?

In the best-case scenario, you receive Louisiana workers' compensation benefits during a short recovery period and then return to work in your old position. However, some types of injuries make it difficult or impossible to handle your previous responsibilities. In these cases, you may qualify for vocational rehabilitation benefits through the workers' compensation program.  When you need vocational rehabilitation services

Eligibility for Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits

For the purpose of workers' compensation, returning to work is considered one of the following:

  • Returning to your previous position
  • Returning to a modified version of your previous position
  • Returning to a related occupation suited to your education and marketable skills

If these options are not possible, a vocational rehabilitation counselor can help you seek on–the-job training, as well as a minimum amount of retraining or support with self-employment. What vocational training involves will depend on your injury, previous position, and past education.

Labor Market Surveys

A labor market survey is based on the results of a functional capacity evaluation. This is a test administered by a physical therapist who looks at what parts of a job would be difficult for you to perform given the state of your injuries. Some of the specific tasks you're evaluated on include your ability to stand, climb, lift weights, and carry boxes.

Your labor market survey will be prepared by a vocational expert hired by the insurance company. The survey should contain one or more jobs that appear to be compatible with your physical limitations, past education, and current skills as described in your functional capacity evaluation. Locally available jobs must be given priority when compared to positions in a statewide job pool.

It is important to remember that vocational rehabilitation doesn't necessarily have to involve finding an injured worker another job. You can apply for the jobs listed in your labor market survey, but the state can consider vocational rehabilitation accomplished even if you don't find a position within the specified timeframe for receiving benefits. Job placement is not legally required, as long as they've established your wage-earning capacity.

Receiving Additional Training

Vocational rehabilitation is designed to return a worker to employment as soon as possible. You will not be offered retraining opportunities if it is determined that there are suitable jobs already available to you. Retraining is only an option when your injuries have made it impossible to return to your previous employment, and there are no other jobs available that match your education and skill level.

Workers injured on the job who are determined to be eligible for vocational rehab training services can typically receive benefits for up to 26 weeks, with an additional 26-week extension allowed in select cases. However, a request for vocational retraining must be filed within two years from the end date of temporary total disability as determined by the treating physician.

In most cases, retraining programs are provided within the state. If a program requires temporary residence away from the worker's home, the employer or workers' compensation insurer must pay reasonable costs for board, lodging, or travel.

Protecting Your Legal Rights

If your employer won't respond to your request for vocational rehabilitation services or you do not feel as though the services being provided are meeting your needs, you can file a dispute with the state workers’ compensation court. In this case, you'll qualify for an expedited hearing on the matter.

Legal representation isn't required to receive workers' compensation benefits, but having an experienced attorney to advocate for your interests can be valuable when you're experiencing difficulty gaining approval for the appropriate vocational rehabilitation services or if you don’t believe the results of your labor market survey accurately reflect your employment prospects.

The legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is dedicated to helping Louisiana residents access their workers' compensation benefits. We've worked with both part-time and full-time employees, including those with seriously disabling injuries, in a wide range of industries. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.588.6303 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at one of our six convenient office locations.