You used to be a skilled plumber, but since your lumbar spine injury and subsequent medical treatment, it is impossible to resume your former employment. The main issue is the constant kneeling and squatting in tight spaces and awkward positions that the job of a plumber requires. Attempting to continue to work in your former position will undoubtedly re-aggravate your injury and worsen your lumbar spine injury.
Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, you may be entitled to rehabilitation benefits. The goals behind rehabilitation benefits are set out in Minnesota Statute §176.102. The purpose of rehabilitation is to return the employee to “suitable, gainful employment” or to a position that is economically similar to his prior, pre-disability position and within his physical restrictions. This analysis takes into account not only one’s immediate income, “but also opportunity for future income.”
In Minnesota, rehabilitation benefits are available to help you return to suitable gainful employment. According to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, you’re eligible to receive these benefits if you are unable to do your usual and customary job because of your injury, your employer is unable to provide other suitable employment, and rehabilitation services will benefit you.
Once you’re deemed to be a “qualified employee,” you’re entitled to a consultation with a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (“QRC”) of your choosing, who will assist you with communicating with your medical providers, employer and insurance company. A QRC will also help with vocational services, such as skills training, job placement and vocational testing.
Choosing your own Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant is important because an insurer-appointed QRC, while technically neutral, has underlying loyalty to the insurance company. The right to choose your own QRC has a time limit of 60 days after a rehabilitation plan was filed. Therefore, if you are assigned a QRC by an insurance company it’s important to act quickly to get your own QRC appointed. This is something that would be best discussed with your lawyer.
An insurer will file a rehabilitation request to seek to discontinue or change the rehabilitation plan for various reasons. Disputes often arise when rehabilitation services do not result in a return to substantial, gainful employment, or is slower than expected in achieving its goals. The insurer will often file a rehabilitation request to terminate the rehabilitation plan because of its high cost and lack of success.
Once the request is made, the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) will seek to resolve the dispute informally with a Rehabilitation Conference. A rehab conference is a mediation facilitated by a DOLI mediator—someone who has ample experience in the area of workers’ compensation law. A mediator is essentially a disinterested third party who oversees and hears both sides of the dispute. Both sides have a chance to make their arguments and present any documentation that supports their argument. If no agreement can be reached between the parties, the mediator will issue a formal, written decision on the dispute. This decision can be appealed to a formal hearing by either party. A formal hearing allows for more testimony and evidence to be entered and takes place in front of an administrative law judge.
The procedures and requirements under the Workers’ Compensation Act are confusing and can be difficult to navigate without the representation of an attorney. Having a skilled attorney in the area of worker’s compensation law is crucial in choosing a QRC, in presenting your arguments in a rehabilitation conference, and in deciding whether or not to proceed to a formal hearing after receiving an adverse decision in a rehabilitation conference.
If you have a work injury that is interfering with your ability to work and you would like a better understanding of your options, call Meuser Law Office, P.A. at 877-746-5680 or click here to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.