Frequently, employers and insurers who are involved in Minnesota workers’ compensation cases do not understand that even if an employee separates from his or her date of injury employer, he or she is still entitled to rehabilitation services of a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC). These rehabilitation services include job placement services. A QRC will help an injured worker return to work at a different job within his or her restrictions.
If an employer and insurer terminates rehabilitation services through a rehabilitation request and is refusing to provide job placement services, the injured worker should file a rehabilitation request. The issue must be certified as a dispute under Minnesota Statute § 176.081, subdivision 1 (c). After a mediator at the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) will determine whether a genuine dispute exists between the parties and the matter will be scheduled for a rehabilitation conference at DOLI.
As long as an employee remains a qualified employee under Minnesota Administrative Rules part 5220.0100 subpart 22, an employee is entitled to rehabilitation services, including job placement services. In order to be a qualified employee, the employee must be:
(a) permanently precluded or likely to be permanently precluded from his or her usual occupation or job he or she held at the time of the injury;
(b) cannot reasonably be expected to return to suitable gainful employment with the date of injury employer; and
(c) can reasonably be expected to return to suitable gainful employment with rehabilitation services.
By definition if PERA has awarded a Minnesota police officer, firefighter, first responder, or deputy sheriff Duty Disability benefits, he or she is a qualified employee. In order to receive PERA Duty Disability benefits, two doctors must opine that the worker’s disability prevents him or her from working as a police officer or firefighter for at least one year.
Once PERA awards an employee Duty Disability benefits he or she must separate from the county or city. If the police officer or firefighter is working light duty, he or she must separate within 45 days. The injured worker may return to work in a different capacity but he or she cannot work in a position covered by the PERA Police and Fire Plan.
Members who qualify for PERA Duty Disability benefits are actually incentivized to find employment in a non-police and fire plan position. If he or she is not working, the injured worker’s wages are capped at 100% of his or her “high five” between PERA benefits and workers’ compensation wage loss benefits. But if he or she is able to work elsewhere, the member’s wages are capped at 125% among PERA, work comp, and the new job. After the member’s wage reaches 125% then the PERA benefits are reduced a dollar for every three dollars.
Accepting PERA Duty Disability benefits do not signify that the employee is withdrawing from the labor market. The injured worker merely cannot work in the same capacity in which he or she worked before the injury and disabling condition. Injured workers should complete and track his or her job search in order to demonstrate a desire to return to work.
In the Minnesota workers’ compensation case, Erickson v. City of St. Paul, the employee resigned from his employer, who was accommodating his restrictions, in order to accept PERA benefits. (slip. op. (W.C.C.A. April 16, 2007)). The employer and insurer argued because he voluntarily resigned he was not qualified for rehabilitation services, specifically retraining benefits. The court noted that the employee qualified for PERA benefits because of his disability, not because he restricted and that whether an employee is “employed, voluntarily terminates his employment, retires, or relocates does not terminate his or her entitlement to rehabilitation services.”
If an employee does not resign from the position covered by the PERA police and fire plan, he or she will lose entitlement to non-taxable income, 60% of his or her “high five,” health insurance benefits, and survivor benefits. Refusing a job offer does not cut off rehabilitation services nor does being fired for misconduct. Hugill v. Benton County, 64 WCD 220 (2004); Conklin v. Becker County Dev. Achievement Ctr., Slip op., No. WC 10-210 (WCCA Apr. 28, 2011). The court noted in Boutto v. U.S. Steel Corp. that an employee’s decision to accept the employer’s retirement incentive package should not place him in a worse position than someone discharged for misconduct. (July 18, 2007 WC06-288.)
Meuser Law Office, P.A. is one of the few workers’ compensation law firms in the state of Minnesota that also handles PERA and MSRS disability claims. We’ve successfully represented hundreds of State Patrol, police officers and firefighters throughout the state for both workers’ compensation and PERA/MSRS disability claims. If your employer or insurer has denied rehabilitation services, contact an attorney at Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle Minnesota workers’ compensation cases on a daily basis and are very familiar with the most current laws to determine what you are eligible for. We will ensure you receive the full benefits you are entitled. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.