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Employer Must Still Provide Current Employee with Vocational Rehabilitation Services

On Behalf of | Dec 7, 2020 | Firm News |

In a case in which an employer was required at arbitration to pay for vocational rehabilitation services for a claimant that still worked for the employer, the Commission affirmed the award for the payment by the employer for rehabilitation services. See Employer fails to escape liability for vocational rehab services. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 28, Issue 6, May 15, 2020, p. 6.[1] The case discussed in the article, Adams v. Carbondale, City of, 28 ILWCLB 64 (Ill. W.C. Comm. 2019), involved a claimant that was employed as a garbage collector.  The claimant would, like most garbagemen and/or garbagewomen, go around picking up and emptying cans of trash into garbage trucks, but she suffered a right rotator-cuff tear in April 2014, as a result of repeatedly and continuously lifting trash cans.[2]  The claimant endured two arthroscopic surgeries on her right shoulder, and was found by the Arbitrator to have suffered a work-related accident and/or condition that caused her right shoulder injuries.  In addition to her award of medical expenses and temporary total disability (TTD) benefits, the claimant was also awarded reimbursement for the cost of vocational rehabilitation services as well.[3]  The employer appealed the award of rehabilitation services’ costs, arguing that since the claimant was never terminated and allegedly had no reduction in her earning capacity, she did not require vocational rehabilitation. Yet, the Commission affirmed the Arbitrator’s decision, holding firstly that there was no case law in which it was held that claimants were required to be unemployed and/or to have been terminated by their employers, before they became eligible for receipt of awards for vocational rehabilitation.[4]  Secondly, due to the nature of the claimant’s injuries, she was unable to return to her regular, pre-accident work duties, and thus had to be retrained for other types of positions with her employer that conformed to her restrictions.  The process of the claimant resuming regular employment with her employer was a long, drawn-out affair, with the employer offering her only temporary work at first, while the claimant underwent vocational retraining for new types of positions.[5]  The claimant was ultimately able to secure a new position with her employer, at increased level of pay as well.  This is something the employer also used to argue against the award of the costs of vocational rehabilitation services, but the Commission was still not swayed, since it was vocational rehabilitation that allowed the claimant to be retrained for the better-paying position in the first place.[6]  Even if the limitations on a claimant’s employability and earning capacity are ultimately only temporary, a claimant may still require the use of vocational rehabilitation services, while he/she tries to find more suitable work with her employer.  Thus, the Commission found that the vocational rehabilitation services for the claimant were necessary.[7]  The main point of this case seems to be that if an employer wants its injured employees to be retrained for new kinds of work or positions, it needs to provide and/or pay for vocational rehabilitation, as a much-needed part of that process.

-Attorney Matthew Ludwinski

[1]See. Employer fails to escape liability for vocational rehab services. Illinois Worker’s Compensation Law Bulletin (also cited as ILWCLB), Volume 28, Issue 6, May 15, 2020, p. 6.
[2]See Id at 7.
[3]See Id at 7.
[4]See Id at 7.
[5]See Id at 7.
[6]See Id at 7.
[7]See Id at 7.