A vocational expert is a person hired by the insurance company to determine what kind of work you are capable of doing if your injury prevents you from returning to your previous position. Typically the vocational expert will contact you and set up a time to meet with you.
If you receive such a phone call, you should call workers’ compensation lawyers immediately.
After the vocational expert meets with you, they will search the local job market for positions they believe are appropriate for you based upon your work history, education and limitations resulting from your work injury. Typically, they will then send a report to the insurance carrier listing the positions that they have found and will estimate your earning capacity based upon those positions. The insurance carrier will then use this information to try to reduce your wage loss benefits. Sometimes they may schedule appointments for you to submit applications or interview with particular employers.
Failure to attend these appointments may significantly jeopardize your wage loss benefits.
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What Should I Do If I’m Contacted About a Vocational Interview After My Work Injury?
If you’ve sustained a work injury and are unable to return to your pre-injury position, or if your employer is unable to accommodate whatever medical restrictions you may need, you will continue to collect your weekly wage loss benefits. The insurance company, obviously, has an interest in trying to minimize or stop those payments to you, and if there is no work available to you with your employer, the insurance company will often resort to hiring a vocational consultant to try to prove that there is other work available to you in the general labor market.
It is important for you to remember the consultant is working only for the insurance company and is not looking out for your best interests.
In fact, in most cases, the consultant never actually assists you in finding a new job. Rather, the consultant uses the information you provide about your background, training and education to identify potential jobs that you could perform, and this information is then used by the insurance company to try to stop your benefits.
Do I Have to Complete a Vocational Interview?
Yes, you are required to do a vocational interview. But there is a process that takes place first.
If you have an ongoing workers’ compensation claim and are receiving benefits to cover any wage losses or medical bills, your employer’s insurance company will do everything in its powers to reduce or end your benefits as soon as they can.
First, they will send you for an Independent Medical Evaluation (IME). This normally happens with a doctor they have chosen. You must attend this medical appointment, or your benefits may be suspended. Their doctor will examine you and issue a report about your condition and if you can return to some form of work. If you feel this report is inaccurate, you may challenge it.
The insurance carrier will then approach your employer and find out if there is anything within the company which you could do that will follow the medical restrictions placed upon you by the doctor. If your employer has nothing suitable for you, the insurance company hires a vocational expert who will interview you about future employment prospects. They will ask you about any previous jobs, any skills that may be transferable and your educational background. As soon as you know you are scheduled for a vocational expert interview, you should contact your lawyer immediately.
What Are the Effects of a Vocational Interview?
If you are an injured employee collecting workers’ compensation benefits, a vocational interview is like a trap. While it is necessary that you attend a vocational interview to keep receiving your benefits, you must always remember this person was hired by the insurance company, and their goal is to reduce or end your benefits. A vocational expert is not a friend.
After the vocational expert interviews you, they carry out a Labor Market Survey, also known as an Earning Power Assessment, to create a list of jobs somewhat available in your area that fit within the restrictions set by the IME doctor. At least that is what they will say it is. In reality, vocational experts will often assign an injured worker a series of jobs for which they are not suited to try to force them off workers’ compensation benefits.
Regardless of the suitability of the job, it is extremely important that you always do a job interview with any employer specified by the vocational expert.
If the insurance company petitions a workers’ compensation judge to end your benefits, it is important you show that you have indeed tried to apply for these jobs. This will help the judge determine if the suggested work is suitable for you and available or just an attempt by the insurance company to end benefits.
How Do I Talk to a Vocational Expert?
It is very important that you speak to your lawyer before you do an interview with any vocational expert. Here are some tips on things that you should say or not say:
1. Do not make conversation or small talk with the expert.
As we stated above, a vocational expert is not your friend or your buddy. They are not there to make sure you receive the best possible outcome. They are there to try to find a way to end your workers’ compensation benefits. So anything you say during the interview, as the police say when they give a Miranda warning, “can and will be used against you.”
2. Do not make reckless statements to the vocational expert.
You must never say something like, “I’m not going to apply for any job that pays less than $20 an hour,” or, “The doctor doesn’t know what she was talking about. I can’t work in any job so why bother applying.” This is exactly what the vocational expert wants to hear. This careless statement will be reported to the insurance company. Then the insurance company will do their best to make it look like you are refusing to cooperate with any effort at vocational rehabilitation. This could bring an end to your benefits. Instead, let the vocational expert know you appreciate their efforts and that you will fully comply with any reasonable effort to help you find a suitable job.
3. Don’t be an optimist.
This is the other side of the coin from the point above. Vocational experts will do their very best to convince you to make a statement that you feel good enough to work just about anywhere or do just about anything. They will do this even if they know, and you know, that this is not the truth. Again, the vocational expert will take the statement to the insurance company, who will then use it against you in any hearing about terminating your benefits.
Always tell the truth. If you think you can do a particular job, you should say so. But if you know you are hurt and are incapable of certain kinds of employment, then speak up about that too. Do not overestimate your abilities.
4. Do not let the vocational expert talk you into starting your own business.
It may have always been your dream to one day start your own business. Many Americans share that dream. But if you are injured and are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, now is not the time to start. The failure rate for people even in the best of health is very high. The vocational expert will try to coax out of you an interest of some kind. If you make a statement that one day you would like to open your own bicycle repair shop, they will jump on this and use it as a reason to say that this is what you should do.
Remember point number one. Do not make small conversation with a vocational expert because they are not there to help you.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know About Doing an Interview With a Vocational Expert?
Aside from the tips mentioned above about how to talk to a vocational expert, there are several other important points that you should always keep in mind.
1. Return to work as soon as possible.
This may seem counterproductive to some of the points we made above, but if you are able, it is important you return to work as soon as you can. This will enable you to earn additional income and help you achieve a better image of yourself. Also, returning to work takes the vocational expert out of play, which means they cannot force you to apply for jobs that you do not really want or cannot do.
This does not mean, however, that you should return to your job before your doctor says you can. It is also key that your doctor knows about the job to which you will return and has talked to you about any necessary limitations or restrictions.
2. Never do an interview with a vocational expert in your home.
Vocational experts will look for any sign that they can pass on to the insurance company to use against you. If you allow them to interview you in your home, they may notice something about you or your family that they can use against you. There is absolutely no reason that you need to share anything about your personal life with them. In fact, the less they know about your personal life, the better.
The first choice for a meeting with a vocational expert is in your lawyer’s office. You should always have your lawyer present for the interview anyway. If that cannot be scheduled, then you should meet the vocational expert in a public place like a coffee shop or library.
3. Make sure you insist that any job suggested to you is suitable.
Just because the vocational counselor is only supposed to recommend jobs that are suitable for you based on medical restrictions and other concerns, they will often not do so. They could tell you to just look in the newspaper and apply for any job you see there. This is not okay, and it is another reason why you need to make sure your lawyer is present for a vocational interview. A lawyer will soon put a stop to that kind of nonsense.
4. Keep a record of everything.
This is extremely important. You should make notes about your interview with the vocational expert as soon as it is over. You should maintain a log of all the jobs for which you have interviewed, their location, the day that you visited that employer and your conversation with them. Keep track of your medical progress, your visits to your doctor and their comments to you about your condition.
In fact, it is an even better idea to write up notes about your meeting with the vocational expert as it is taking place. That signals them that you understand what is at stake and that you will be prepared to counter any allegation that you have not been cooperating.
Also, make a copy of everything — any letter or communication you receive from the workers’ compensation board, your doctor, your employer’s insurance company and any communication sent to you by the vocational expert. The more documents you preserve, the easier it will be for your lawyer to prove that you have been fully cooperative if the insurance company tries to terminate your benefits.
Why Should You Hire a Workers’ Comp Attorney?
A lawyer can be your advocate. Remember, a vocational expert is not looking out for your best interests, so you need someone who is. A workers’ compensation attorney has been through this process many times and can help keep you out of the insurance company’s traps. Having a lawyer on your side who is well-versed in worker’s comp issues can help you keep the benefits that you deserve.
Let KBG Injury Law Help You With Your Vocational Interview
If you are contacted by a vocational consultant, you are strongly advised to contact an attorney for guidance. For our clients at KBG Injury Law, we actively participate in the interview process, first by requiring that the interview take place in our office, under our supervision, to make sure that only relevant information is requested. It is important for us to become involved as early as possible in your case to provide you with the proper guidance through the process.
Your rights and obligations regarding the vocational process are complex. It is very important that you contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as the process begins. The longer you wait to contact a lawyer after the process begins, the more likely it is that your wage loss benefits and the possibility of workers’ compensation settlements will be jeopardized.
If you have any more questions or concerns, please feel free to call us for a free consultation at 1-800-509-1011 or leave a note for us and one of our team of experienced lawyers will get back to you soon as possible.