Recent news articles suggest that several states are in the throes of workers’ compensation reform, with legislators attempting to create a business-friendly environment in their state—on the backs of injured workers.
The main focus of any workers’ compensation system should be to restore the earning capacity that a worker held before suffering a work injury.
One victim of these efforts at workers’ compensation reform is the reduction or evisceration of vocational rehabilitation.
The main focus of any workers’ compensation system should be to restore the earning capacity that a worker held before suffering a work injury. As a public policy, the hope is that an injured worker – after reaching their healing plateau – can return to their time of injury employer, earning similar wages.
A return to work, however, is not always possible based on the worker’s level of disability, the former employer’s decisions, or a variety of the other factors. In these situations, vocational retraining becomes a necessary option.
Wisconsin presumes that at least 80 weeks (the time necessary for a routine Associate Degree for two years with two summer schools) is the minimum amount required to restore the worker.
I am often called upon to analyze whether a claim should be made in Wisconsin or another State and one significant factor is whether the injured worker has permanent restrictions that preclude his return to employment and require vocational rehabilitation. Wisconsin workers’ compensation law provides benefits for vocational rehabilitation beyond those available in many States that cap benefits, if any are available at all. Wisconsin’s Administrative Code explicitly states the primary purpose of vocational rehabilitation benefits is to provide a method to restore an injured worker as nearly as possible to the worker’s pre-injury earning capacity and potential.
To fulfill this purpose, Wisconsin workers’ compensation law, in conjunction with the Federal Rehabilitation Act and the State agency that administered the Act, the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, provides benefits including meals, mileage, and Temporary Total Disability during the time needed to attend school to learn a new trade within the permanent physical restrictions commensurate with the worker’s earning capacity and potential. Wisconsin presumes that at least 80 weeks (the time necessary for a routine Associate Degree for two years with two summer schools) is the minimum amount required to restore the worker. However, in cases where the worker’s prior earnings and capacity were substantial (truck drivers, construction workers, professionals, etc.), retraining can include a Bachelors or even graduate degree and the insurance carrier is responsible to pay meals, mileage, and maintenance during the time for retraining.