Workers’ Compensation: Vocational Rehabilitation

When an employee gets hurt on the job, there is an array of benefits that the injured worker is eligible for, but may not know it. Today’s article focuses on vocational rehabilitation and retraining. I often get phone calls or have initial consultations involving injured workers who have no idea that they are entitled to rehabilitation services. Often times the workers’ compensation insurance carrier will not provide a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC) unless the injured worker specifically requests one. As such, I think it is important to shed some light on a very important concept of workers’ compensation.

Rehabilitation in the world of workers’ compensation essentially means providing injured workers assistance in preparing for or obtaining employment. The general purpose of rehabilitation is to allow injured workers to return to their former employment or, if precluded from returning to their pre-injury job, to allow the injured employee to return to a modified job and to also encourage injured workers to increase their employability by acquiring new or additional skills through on-the-job training or retraining. See Jerde v. Adolfson & Peterson, 484 N.W.2d 793 (Minn. 1992).
So how do you know if you qualify for rehabilitation services when you are injured at work? Minnesota law has laid out guidelines for this exact question. First, the work injury must preclude the injured worker from engaging in the employee’s usual and customary occupation or from engaging in the job the individual held at the time of the injury. An example of this is the employee’s job is more physical, but after the employee suffers a work injury, the employer gives the employee a position more sedentary while they heal from the injury. If this is the injured employee’s situation, they satisfy this part.

The next requirement to qualify for rehabilitation services is that the injured worker cannot reasonably be expected to return to suitable gainful employment with the date-of-injury employer. This requirement is less concrete and is more fact specific. If the employer gives the injured worker accommodating work in order to be consistent with the injured workers’ work restrictions and the injured worker is working the same hours and the same rate, it would appear he/she is engaging in “suitable gainful employment”. With that said, often times these accommodating jobs are only temporary and the employer has no intention of keeping the accommodating job open for an extending period of time. The bottom line is that if an injured worker is precluded from its job duties it had prior to the work injury and the employer isn’t providing a long-term solution, the employee is likely precluded from suitable gainful employment from the date of injury employer.

The last requirement is that the employee can reasonably be expected to return to suitable gainful employment through the provision of rehabilitation services considering the treating physician’s opinion of the employee’s work ability. This is a long way of saying would rehabilitation services help an injured worker on work restrictions find employment? If the injured worker has work restrictions and has the desire to maintain working, they clearly would benefit from rehabilitation services.

So now you understand what it takes to be qualified, what exactly are rehabilitation services? Essentially, if an injured worker qualifies, then they are assigned a QRC to help the injured worker with job search and even provide assistance in acquiring new skills. The QRC serves as a neutral party on a workers’ compensation claim to make sure the job search is consistent with the injured workers’ restrictions and if pursuing additional training, to make sure the injured worker is capable of the pursued additional training.

Please send any request for topic suggestions to Although we cannot give you legal advice through the column, we can provide some general information that may be helpful for you to know. Our purpose is to educate and we hope that you can take something new away from this column each time you read it.