Occupational accidents cause debilitating and permanent injuries every day. When your injuries prevent you from returning to work due to a disability, vocational evaluations are used to determine if you can transition to another occupational field.
At The Morris Law Group, our lawyers have years of experience protecting the benefits injured employees deserve. Our workers’ compensation attorneys in Riverside can guide you through the claims process and ensure your best interests are represented.
What is the Purpose of a Vocational Evaluation for Workers’ Compensation?
A vocational evaluation for workers’ compensation is a tool used to determine an individual’s level of disability and how it impacts their earning potential.
Earning potential is also called earning capacity. It is a legal term used to discuss and compare:
- The possible wages an individual could have made had they not suffered a debilitating injury
- What potential income they can now make with their injuries
When calculating damages, the term is often used in personal injury and workers’ compensation cases. Every year, thousands of workers across the state are seriously injured in work-related accidents. According to the latest data from the US Department of Labor in California:
- 13,808 applications have been filed for workers’ compensation
- 5,656 applications have been rejected
A vocational evaluation can hurt or help your claim, depending on the circumstances of your case. If your insurance company has asked you to have a vocational assessment, seeking the legal advice of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can protect your best interests.
What is an Impairment Rating?
Generally, employees are not asked to see a vocational specialist unless their treating doctor has given them an impairment rating.
When a worker suffers an injury that affects the function of their body, body part, or mental facilities, an impairment rating is assigned to describe the severity. Impairments can range from mild to severe and are categorized as follows:
- Permanent impairment: Permanent impairments will never recover. Examples of permanent impairments may be spinal cord injuries that result in paralysis or loss of vision and blindness.
- Temporary impairment: Employees are able to recover from temporary impairments after treatment and continuing physical and occupational therapy. A hip fracture, for example, may severely limit a worker’s mobility for an extended period of time. However, the fracture may heal without any permanent ailments.
An impairment will limit or prevent an employee from performing various occupational tasks. Permanent impairments are given ratings to quantify the injury on a scale. Impairment ratings are set on a scale of 0% to 100%.
During a vocational evaluation, an injured worker will undergo a series of physical and mental assessments to determine their occupational limitations. Once complete, the vocational expert will create a plan for the injured employer to return to the job market. A vocational plan will include:
- Any programs that would benefit the injured individual
- Estimated training time
- Workers’ compensation cost analysis
- A detailed description of an injured employee’s earning ceiling
Vocational specialists are used as experts. The insurance company will hire its own vocational expert and if you have an attorney he would hire his own vocational expert to rebut the insurance company’s vocational expert. It is essential to know that your vocational evaluation is not confidential. Anything you say or do during the assessment may be used to support or hurt your workers’ compensation claim. Having an experienced attorney represent your best interests is critical if you have suffered a catastrophic work-related injury.
Who Will Conduct My Workers’ Compensation Vocational Evaluation?
Vocational evaluators must meet a series of qualifications to be considered experts in the eyes of the court. Evaluators must:
- Have a master’s degree from an accredited school
- 3 years of professional experience
- Pass an exam conducted by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
Insurance companies often prefer to work with specific doctors and vocational evaluators. While workers’ compensation is created to aid injured employees, the insurance company that provides those funds may fight to minimize payouts on claims. A vocational evaluation that encourages returning to the workforce in a different capacity is a standard tool.
Hurt workers can exercise the right to have their evaluation examined by another party. A workers’ compensation lawyer can advise employees of their rights throughout the claims process.
What Are My Rights in California?
Under California law, every injured worker has a right to:
- A fair and unbiased vocational evaluation
- The presence of an attorney during the exam
- A second opinion by another evaluator
Unlike doctor-patient confidentiality, there is no privacy with a vocational expert. Vocational specialists are paid to assess everything said and learned during the evaluation and file their report to all relevant parties.
What Should I Expect at My Vocational Evaluation?
To create your vocational plan, your evaluator will assess your injuries and impairments and how they will impact your occupational potential.
Your evaluator will ask a series of detailed questions regarding the types of jobs you have worked and the skills used during employment. The goal is to assess your work history with your recent impairments to gauge what kind of jobs you may qualify for in the future.
For example, a machinist who has worked 20 years doing the same repetitive tasks may be ill-equipped to manage a restaurant.
Education and Occupational Training
The level of education and special training is an important factor to an evaluator. The vocational expert will ask questions regarding:
- Have you completed any degrees?
- Have you had any specialized training for your career or occupation?
- Do you have your CDS license?
- Have you earned any special certifications during employment?
Your education in a particular industry or field could mean you are unable to transition effectively to a new occupation.
Your vocational expert will review any skills you have developed throughout your occupational history. The purpose is to determine if you have any transferable skills despite your limitations.
Common transferable skills involve:
- Critical thinking
Computer skills are the most transferable and have allowed more disabled workers to find gainful employment than at any other point in American history.
Injuries and Medical Treatments
A detailed assessment of your injuries is needed to evaluate your impairment properly. In addition, the vocational expert will examine what treatments you have received, medications you have taken, and what your medical future may be.
It is critical to your case that you continue to attend your appointments and take your prescribed medication. If you stop seeing your treating doctors, it may hurt your workers’ compensation claim.
Evaluation of Your Physical Condition and Limitations
The vocational specialist will also evaluate your physical condition and limitations. Injuries and functionality are different. Injuries refer to bodily damage. However, functionality refers to an impairment that prevents a person from a range of activities or ability to perform an occupation.
Assessing your physical and mental limitations is paramount to your workers’ compensation claim or disability case.
The vocational expert will conduct an achievement test. Typically, the evaluator will use the Wide Range Achievement Test and focus on the following abilities or limitations:
- Language skills
After your vocational evaluation, the assessor will create a report. A vocational report summarizes all aspects of your assessment to determine your occupational abilities and limitations.
Generally, your vocational report will consist of the following:
- Occupational strengths and weaknesses
- Transferable skills
- Aptitude test
Your vocational evaluator will use the assessment to determine what work fields are suited to your abilities.
How Can a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Riverside Help My Case?
A Riverside workers’ compensation attorney can help claimants through the processes and ensure they receive the settlement they deserve.
Our highly accomplished legal team at The Morris Law Group has more than 3 decades of experience. We provide:
- Free case evaluations
- Communication 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Representation on a contingency fee basis
Our award-winning attorneys boast a 99% success rate. We have recovered millions for our clients in settlements and verdicts. If you have been injured in the workplace, schedule a free consultation today by calling (951) 680-1182.