An injured worker with an L&I claim will often be assigned a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) who appears with a stated mission to perform “early intervention vocational services.” Sometimes, the assignment of such a VRC is an indication that conflict is coming between the injured or ill worker and the Department of Labor & Industries and Self-Insured Employer. It is often, therefore, a reason to consult an experienced Labor & Industries attorney.
Is the VRC there for the worker? No. If they were there for the worker, the name of the services for which they’ve been hired wouldn’t include the word “intervention.” What exactly is being intervened (?) – the worker’s current course toward potentially receiving long-term time loss, valuable retraining benefits or receipt of an injury pension. In sum, receipt of valuable benefits is being “intervened,” and this tells you clearly that the appearance of a VRC for this purpose is often a bad thing for the injured or sick worker.
What does the VRC do when assigned for early intervention services in a worker’s L&I claim? Washington Administrative Code provides that they will:
- Discuss early return to work options with the employer, worker, and attending physician
- Identify return to work goals and barriers that may interfere with or prevent the industrially injured or ill worker from returning to work or continuing to work at the pre-injury pattern of employment
- Assist employers with offers of employment
- Plan and coordinate job modifications and pre-employment accommodations
- Perform job analyses (which can then be fed to Independent Medical Examiners for statements that the injured worker can go back to work immediately, for example)
- Assess the injured or ill worker’s need for “preferred worker” status (a status given to some workers but not others under current law…Washington Law Center is presently challenging the constitutionality of this arrangement on Equal Protection grounds)
- “Educate” or perhaps intimidate the injured worker that it is their duty to return to work
None of what a VRC does in early intervention services are meant to help prove that an injured or ill worker “is unable to work” even if that is the frank reality in that worker’s claim. The appointment of a VRC to perform such “services” is a potentially-adversarial development and means that the injured worker’s case may be placed at risk. Moreover, the label of the referral itself [correctly] suggests a hands-on approach whereby the employer, worker, and physician will each separately be pressured in different ways, all to obtain the preferred outcome of the Department of Labor & Industries or Self-Insured Employer who don’t want to keep paying the bills. For instance, they may push for the earliest possible return to work, even if the injured worker could medically benefit by additional time off to recover from their injuries.
If an early intervention referral has been made in your L&I case, you owe it to yourself to obtain a free consultation from the experienced L&I attorneys at Washington Law Center. We can help make sure you are not being taken advantage of during this process. Call us today!
Spencer Parr is an attorney/partner at Washington Law Center who works with Washington labor & industries, social security disability, & time-loss benefits. He is experienced in working all across the US as he has worked cases in Washington, California, New York, & Arizona.