This voluntary program helps injured employees get back to work safely

The goal of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Vocational Rehabilitation (Voc Rehab) program is to prevent a lengthy disability for an injured worker with a lost-time claim.

“Voc Rehab is an essential element of the benefits provided to employees under the workers’ compensation program,” says Bruce Preston, client services manager at CompManagement and current Rehabilitation Chair of the BWC’s annual Ohio Safety Congress. “It can help employers maintain control over claims and direct employees to great occupational health care.”

Smart Business spoke with Preston about both the benefits and the costs involved in developing a Voc Rehab plan.

What is Voc Rehab?

Voc Rehab is an option when other return-to-work efforts are exhausted or when a worker’s injuries are so severe it prevents a return to their original position. It involves a qualified rehabilitation professional who meets personally with the injured worker to develop a specific plan to accomplish their work-related goal, such as a return to their same or different job with the same employer, or a return to the same or different job with a different employer.

How are the costs covered?

The costs associated with Voc Rehab, including lost-time compensation, are covered by the BWC surplus fund and are not charged to the employer’s policy/experience for rate-making purposes. Limited Voc Rehab services are available for medical-only claims, but those costs are charged to the employer’s premium experience.

What are the benefits of Voc Rehab?

Programs like Voc Rehab can help keep employers involved in the injured worker’s medical condition and treatment plan. It also allows an employer to retain experienced workers, thereby eliminating the time and costs associated with hiring/training new employees. Employers can also help maintain workforce morale and confidence in their plan to help them deal with the injury and preserve their job. Voc Rehab benefits for an injured worker include a quicker recovery, a smoother transition back to regular duty, keeps job skills current and reduces problems related to inactivity.

Who is responsible for determining the feasibility of a plan?

While any party to a claim can make a referral for Voc Rehab, an employer’s managed care organization is responsible for determining program feasibility, which includes reviewing any medical, psychological or other barriers to an injured worker’s ability to fully participate in the return to work focused rehab plan. The BWC is responsible for determining program eligibility.

What’s often included in a Voc Rehab plan?

The main services included in a Voc Rehab plan include:

  • Employer incentive contract — compensates for lost productivity for workers who return to work before they are capable of performing regular job duties up to 50 percent of their salary for 13 weeks.
  • Gradual return to work — allows injured workers to return to work on a graduated basis building up from four hours a day to full-time status. BWC pays injured workers for lost wages due to hours not worked up to 13 weeks.
  • Job modifications — can be made by removing or altering any physical barriers that prevent injured workers from performing essential job functions.
  • Tools and equipment — may also be provided under the plan to allow the injured worker to return to work.
  • On-the-job training — allows an injured worker to obtain or upgrade vocational skills through actual work experience. The employer is reimbursed for the trainer’s time up to a set amount.
  • Work trial — permits an injured worker to attempt a return to work in their original job or a new job for a period of one month allowing an employer to test, evaluate and observe the worker at the actual job prior to hiring.
  • Job seeking/skills training — assists an injured employee who is not able to return to his or her original employer.

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