Articles Posted in Vocational Process

Experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys frequently are involved in cases where an injured worker, no longer able to perform his or her pre-injury job, is referred to other jobs in the community by a vocational counselor, at the request of the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. As lawyers who limit our practice to PA workers’ comp, we love to see cases reduce the power of the workers’ compensation insurance carriers to abuse this process.

Recently, on May 12, 2008, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided PA Department of Corrections v. WCAB (Zvara). In this case, the claimant, who does not drive, was referred to five jobs, which were said by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier to be within the physical limitations of claimant. Claimant did not apply for any of the jobs (Often, the failure to apply for any of the referred jobs is nearly certain to cause the case to be lost). In this situation, however, the Court found that the workers’ compensation insurance carrier did not meet its burden of proof. Specifically, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier failed to prove public transportation was compatible with the hours of the offered jobs, or that the prospective employers would modify the hours of the jobs to accommodate the schedules of public transportation. The mere fact that the referred jobs were accessible by public transportation, without more, was not enough. Since the workers’ compensation insurance carrier did not meet its burden of showing jobs “available” to the claimant, the burden never shifted to claimant, to prove he or she applied for each job in good faith. As such, the Petition for Modification was denied.

One of the tools a workers’ compensation insurance company has in PA to reduce, or “modify,” workers’ compensation benefits is the Labor Market Survey (LMS) (Also called “Earning Power Assessment” (EPS)). This is used when the injured worker has physical limitations which prevent a return to the injured worker’s previous occupation.

As you can see by looking at Section 123.301 in the Regulations issued by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, before an Employer can resort to using an LMS, the Employer must demonstrate that there is no job available with the Employer within the physical limitations of the injured worker . . . or maybe not.

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided the matter of Rosenberg v. W.C.A.B. (Pike County), which dealt with this issue. The Court held, in a narrow 4-3 decision, however, that an Employer only had to address this issue if the injured worker offered evidence (which could just be testimony of the injured worker) that a job was indeed available with the Employer. Once that evidence was presented, then the Employer had the burden of proof to show no such job existed.

Under certain circumstances, injured workers in Pennsylvania are required to submit to a vocational evaluation (a meeting with a vocational counselor). Until recently, the injured worker would usually then hear nothing . . . until a petition was filed by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier to reduce the injured workers’ benefits based on a “Labor Market Survey” (Basically a listing of jobs said to be available to the injured worker). This “hiding” of the vocational evidence made it more difficult for the injured worker to fight the petition.

In June, 2007, new regulations were passed by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, requiring vocational counselors to provide a copy of their initial report, as well as any additional reports, including the Labor Market Survey, to the injured worker, and his or her attorney within certain time frames. This makes the battle to protect an injured worker’s benefits much more fair.

When a workers’ compensation insurance carrier requests the injured worker have a vocational meeting, this should be a clear signal to the injured worker that his or her benefits are in jeopardy. It is at this time, if not before, when an injured worker should seek a workers’ compensation attorney.

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