When a workers’ compensation vocational counselor gets involved in your case, your benefits could be in jeopardy. You need to exercise a significant amount of caution when you meet with the counselor assigned to your case.
Theoretically, vocational rehabilitation is a good thing. It’s supposed to help an injured worker find a job that restores his or her earnings capacity. You need to remember, however, that the vocational rehabilitation counselor’s sole job is to get you off workers’ comp and reduce the insurance company’s expenses — so anything you do or say that supports the termination of your benefits could be used against you.
How do you navigate this tricky situation?
1. Say nothing that could be perceived as a refusal to cooperate You’re obligated to try to cooperate with the counselor, whenever possible. Never make statements like, “I’m not going to apply to a job I know I can’t do.” While you may think you are only being reasonable, the counselor can report that statement as if you are simply refusing to participate in rehabilitation.
2. Don’t go overboard with positive statements, either
You can do an equal amount of damage to your case by being too optimistic. Vocational counselors thrive on positive statements — and may encourage you to say things that overstate your physical capacity. For example, the counselor may say something like, “Could you stand for a half hour at a time?” When you say that you cannot, the counselor may respond with, “Could you try? I think you might be surprised if you try.” That kind of statement is designed to pressure workers agreeing that they either aren’t trying hard enough to overcome their condition or are really able to do more than they’re saying.
3. Beware of fictitious “light-duty” positions
The vocational counselor and your employer may come up with a sudden opportunity to get you back to work and off the disability roll through a “light-duty” position. When you start, however, you realize that your employer would never normally offer someone a job doing something like organizing the files and passing out office supplies. This isn’t a good thing. It’s an invented position designed to get you out from under the protection of workers’ comp — where your employer can safely terminate your position.
It’s important to stay in close contact with your workers’ compensation attorney during this time to get appropriate guidance.