The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) provides a variety of vocational services. The goal of L&I claim vocational services is to help work injury claimants resume continuous, successful, and gainful employment.

 

Who is eligible for L&I claim retraining?

Job retaining isn’t available to everyone. If you have a workers’ compensation claim in Washington State, you may be eligible for retraining if you meet certain conditions. First, you can no longer work at your job of injury. Second, you don’t possess skills to do work under your physical limitations. Finally, if you’re eligible for retraining, then time loss payments continue while you actively and successfully participate in retraining.

 

Retraining plans must be reasonable and appropriate

Retraining programs are a significant benefit following a work injury. However, in my opinion, for a retraining plan to be effective, it must be reasonable and appropriate. For starters, let me explain what I mean by reasonable and appropriate.

 

Reasonable: From my perspective, reasonable plans are within the aptitudes of work injury claimants. They are written for success and not repeated failure. Also, when submitting plans, there’s sufficient time for approval. Moreover, plans allow the work injury claimant to obtain the necessary books, hardware, and other supplies BEFORE the term begins. Good plans include provisions for any necessary educational accommodations. Furthermore, accommodations are pre-arranged and pre-approved with the educational facility. Finally, they are drafted based on recent information about program requirements and course offerings. The latter minimizes the likelihood of class unavailability or program changes.

 

Appropriate: In my opinion, appropriate plans provide a real chance to obtain work once the plan completes. Therefore, there must be actual demand and labor market. Additionally, the job must be something the work injury claimant can sustain in real life. Whenever possible, the plan should also involve a retraining goal that interests the work injury claimant.

 

The importance of good work retraining programs

It’s important for retraining plans to be reasonable so that injured workers succeed. Unreasonable plans have a very high likelihood of failure. For example, when plans exceed the aptitudes of a work injury claimant, they tend to fall behind, fail classes, and often must repeat classes. In fact, I’ve seen plans that include repeat classes in the coursework because of vocational counselor’s assumption the injured worker will fail the class the first time. This doesn’t inspire success. On the contrary. It makes work injury claimants feel defeated before they begin.

 

Another unreasonable issue is when work injury claimants don’t get the hardware, books, supplies or help they need until weeks into the term. By then, they are already behind and may not recover in time to achieve passing grades. In short, plans that are not reasonable make work injury claimants feel like they’ve been set up to fail. Reasonable plans, on the other hand, inspire success.

 

As a primary matter, any retraining goal must be physically appropriate for the work injury claimant. They need to be able to do the work with success and continuity. Beyond that, work injury claimants are far more likely to become successfully employees after retraining if they can obtain a job that satisfies them. The first step towards that goal is ensuring the retraining plan will enable workers to obtain a satisfying job. In my experience, there’s rarely anything more defeating than telling an injured worker they’ve lost a job they love to disability and have no choice but to do a job they hate. While the law does not require people to return to their pre-injury earning capacity, it also doesn’t require them to be miserable.

 

Personal experiences

In summary, plans that are reasonable and appropriate are likely to succeed. Plan success means achieving the goal of vocational services to help work injury claimants resume continuous, successful, and gainful employment. Retraining is an incredibly valuable benefit. For many, retraining is the only hope for returning to work. However, to achieve employability, for it to truly succeed, the plan must be reasonable and appropriate. Sadly, I don’t feel like we place enough emphasis on the importance of reasonable and appropriate retraining plans. While not universally true, I feel that stakeholders put more effort on pushing plans through approval than ensuring they’re reasonable and appropriate. I commend and thank the vocational rehabilitation counselors who actively work for reasonable and appropriate plans. Your work truly changes lives for the better!

 

Interestingly, Terry, my paralegal, was injured at his previous workplace and went through retraining under his workers’ compensation claim. That’s how he achieved his paralegal diploma. Recently, I asked him what retraining meant to him. He replied:

When I went through the plan development process, it was important to me that I found a plan that fit my aptitudes and physical restrictions. I needed my training program to provide me with the skills needed to safely support myself and my family in a new job. I was fearful that I would not be able to find this because early on in the process, I was being presented with options such as weeks-long office assistant that appeared to be within my physical restrictions, but very minimal in the job skills that would be acquired. If I had not been able to get in a program that was appropriate for my educational and physical situation, I would have likely ended up back in a labor-based job, risking further injury.