What is a Vocational Evaluation?
If you’re collecting Workers’ Compensation benefits, don’t be surprised if the insurance company for your employer schedules you for a vocational evaluation? So what exactly is a vocational evaluation, and how can it affect your right to Workers’ Compensation benefits?A vocational evaluation is conducted by a person with expertise on the job market — what types of jobs are available, how much they pay, and what skills they require. Insurance companies will usually schedule these evaluations if the injured worker has been released to a level of work less demanding than the work you were doing at the time of your injury. The vocational person will interview you and ask you questions about your educational and employment background, as well as your injury, the medical treatment you have received, and what type of work, if any, you believe you are able to perform.
The vocational consultant will probably rely on the opinion of the doctor who conducted an independent medical evaluation of you at the request of the insurance company. Suppose that doctor determines that your back injury prevents you from doing the heavy work you previously did, but are able to do light-duty work. The vocational consultant will then perform a “labor market survey” and try to locate positions (usually between four and eight) in your geographic area (if you live in Philadelphia, this would encompass the city and surrounding suburbs) which are within the restrictions imposed by the insurance company doctor and are vocationally suitable for you – in other words, you have the skills to perform the jobs based on your education and work experience. The vocational consultant will the prepare a report listing the details for each of the jobs, including the wages and hours. So how will this play out in your case?
Let’s say that the vocational consultant locates five jobs and the weekly wage of these jobs averages out to $400. Suppose you were earning $1,000 a week at the time of your injury, which would translate to a weekly Workers’ Compensation rate of $666.67. Based on the vocational consultant’s labor market survey, your employer would likely contend that you have an “earning power” of $400 per week, and file a petition seeking to modify your weekly benefits to 2/3 of the difference between what you were earning when you were injured ($1,000) and your earning power according to the vocational consultant ($400). ($1,000-$400 == $600 x 2/3 = $400). Therefore, your employer would attempt to reduce your weekly benefits from $666.66 to $400. If the employer is successful, not only would there be a reduction in your weekly benefits, there would be a limit on how long you could receive those benefits. When you are receiving total disability benefits, you can receive them indefinitely, potentially for the rest of your life. However, if your benefits are modified from total disability to partial disability, you may only receive these benefits for 500 weeks.
If you are scheduled for a vocational evaluation, you should promptly contact Pearson Koutcher Law and speak with one of our experienced and knowledgeable Workers’ Compensation lawyers. If a Modification Petition is filed against you, we will pursue one or more of the following avenues in order to defeat the Petition: (1) Have you apply for the jobs located by the vocational consultant. If you are not offered a job by any of the employers, we will argue that the jobs are not available to you; (2) Argue that the jobs are beyond your physical restrictions. For example, if the jobs are full-time, light-duty positions, and your treating physicians have only released you to perform part-time, sedentary work, we will present the testimony of one of your treating physicians to establish that your injuries have prevented you from performing any of the jobs; (3) Argue that the jobs are not vocationally suitable for you. In other words, we will maintain that the jobs are not compatible with your educational and work background. So if you have only done construction work, and the vocational consultant identifies customer service jobs which require you to talk on the phone and use the computer all day, we will argue to the judge that these positions are not suitable for you and therefore your benefits should not be modified.
It is important that you receive the maximum Workers’ Compensation benefits to which you are entitled, so if you receive a letter scheduling you for a vocational evaluation – or have just gotten injured at work and have questions – do yourself a favor and call Pearson Koutcher Law right away. We will ensure that your rights under Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation law are fully protected.
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