In the Western Australian workers compensation system, where a worker is partially fit for work or fit for work with restrictions it is normal for a ‘vocational rehabilitation provider’ to be appointed to assist the worker to return to work.
Injured workers often concerned about the effect that their rehabilitation provider will have on their workers compensation claim. Some rehabilitation providers want to push injured workers to return to work even when the medical certification says they cannot work in that area. In this article we will discuss the impact that a rehabilitation provider can have on a practical level.
When will the rehabilitation provider be appointed?
A vacation or rehabilitation provider is usually appointed with an injured worker is unable to return to their pre-injury position on a unrestricted basis, and requires assistance. The vocational assistance provided may take the form of assisting the worker to return to an altered role with the same employer, return to a different role with the same employer, return to a similar role with a different employer, or commence a different role with a different employer.
What is the role of the rehabilitation provider?
On a practical level the role of the rehabilitation provider is to manage the return to work process, this means working with the workers’ compensation insurer is, who pays their fees, the injured worker, The injured workers doctor (most commonly the general practitioner), the pre-injury employer and any job placement provider.
The form that this usually takes is that the rehabilitation provider undertakes an assessment of the injured worker to ascertain what their capacity for work in various roles including their pre-injury role. After this takes place, the vocational rehabilitation provider will usually communicate with the injured worker’s general practitioner to ascertain whether the worker has any capacity for a job options identified or a modified version of their pre-injury role.
If the worker does have the capacity for a job placement then this is confirmed in writing and discussed with the injured worker. Once all of the parties have signed off on a return to work plan then the vocational rehabilitation provider attempts to find the injured worker a suitable job placement. The worker then commences the job placement with the goal of proving that they have a full-time capacity to undertake that kind of work.
What problems can arise in the vocational rehabilitation process?
In circumstances where the vocational rehabilitation is unsuccessful, It is common for the workers’ compensation insurer is to take steps to minimise their losses arising from the workers compensation claim. This usually means obtaining a report from one of their usual doctors providing their opinion which may include the following:
- the worker is fit for work; or
- the worker has recovered to the extent that he/she can undertake work earning the same amount or more than the amount being received on worker’s compensation; or
- the worker’s current condition is caused by something other than the work injury; or
- the current condition is caused by another medical condition such as osteoarthritis or degeneration.
In the event the insurer can obtain an opinion stating one of the things above, then the workers compensation insurer may bring proceedings through WorkCover Western Australia for a discontinuance of weekly payments of compensation. In most workers compensation claims this is the main component of the claim.
In the event that the insurer is lodging a WorkCover application on the basis that the worker is fit to undertake another role for which they can earn the same amount they are earning on workers compensation then they will ordinarily obtain a vocational rehabilitation report. The vocational rehabilitation provider has an important role as he/she can state whether those kinds of work are vocationally suitable for the worker.
Does it matter which vocational rehabilitation provider and injured worker uses?
Typically if an injured worker uses the vocational rehabilitation provider appointed by the workers compensation insurer then that vocational rehabilitation provider has interest in the conflict with that of the injured worker as the vocational rehabilitation provider has an interest in obtaining more referrals from the insurance company. In practice this is very obvious when a matter becomes contentious and it is something injured workers should consider carefully.