Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act – Vocational Rehabilitation Services
Any disabled longshore, harbor worker or other employee covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) can request or be offered rehabilitation services if he/she is unable to return to regular employment. Rehabilitation services are facilitated and monitored by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). This agency works with public and private rehabilitation agencies, health care providers and employers to find gainful employment for disabled workers.
A worker who is given such benefits must have the capacity to work in a job for which he/she can be trained. The goal of rehabilitation is, of course, returning the injured worker to the work force and to reduce the amount of compensation being paid. Vocational training is given on-the-job or through trade schools, colleges, apprenticeships or tutoring and are designed to last no more than 2 years.
The original employer is required to offer suitable alternative employment to the worker, if available, that is within the injured person’s physical and mental abilities. It is beneficial to injured workers if they can return to the original employer with a new or modified job since benefits like seniority are maintained, there is less training involved and disability compensation may be less.
Vocational rehabilitation services also include offering resources to find the injured worker suitable employment elsewhere. A qualified vocational rehabilitation counselor (RC)from the Department of Labor assists the worker in this regard.
While participating in rehabilitation, the worker is paid temporary total disability benefits.
Role of Injured Worker
While receiving vocational rehabilitation services, injured workers have some responsibilities to demonstrate that they are motivated to finding suitable employment. These include:
- Maintaining flexibility and being realistic in finding employment and in adjusting to different hours of work or shifts, travel adjustments, new working environment, different benefits of employment
- Making diligent efforts to find work and to accept suitable employment
- Providing medical reports if requested or needed
There are penalties if the disabled worker does not cooperate or participate in rehabilitation services including adjustment of compensation. If the worker does participate, there are incentive payments or maintenance that may include expenses for day care, transportation, room and board, lunches and other costs approved by the rehabilitation specialist (RS).
Placement in a new job either by the present employer or elsewhere is limited to 90 days but is extended another 30 days if reasonable efforts are being made to finding suitable employment and an offer is made within this time. Employers who are willing to rehire are given the first option before the worker receives retraining or attempted placement with a new employer.
If the present employer offers a job, the (RS) determines if work adjustments, accommodations are needed or training. Funding can be provided by the OWCP as well as funds for accessible technology.
If no offer is made by the 85th day, the RS meets to advise the current employer of next stage–testing, training, placement or assisted re-employment.
Vocational rehabilitation is a complex process involving many different agencies, employers, counselors, health care providers and others. Disabled workers should take advantage of services provided to return them to gainful and satisfactory employment.