We discussed the role of the vocational counselor in your L&I claim in other articles. Here, we’re going to go over disputes during the vocational and retraining process. More precisely, we’ll go over Vocational Dispute Resolution (VDRO).
Vocational and employment dispute in an L&I claim
The vocational retraining benefits can be tremendous under the right circumstances. However, there are key problems with the L&I vocational process at large. For example, one big issue is how L&I analyzes the employment ability of work injury claimants. L&I and vocational counselors must evaluate whether a worker can successfully gain and maintain employment. For that, to make work injury claimants employable, they provide multiple retraining plans. Yet, retraining plans have become unrealistic in three common scenarios:
(1) When the academic aptitude of a work injury claimant is very low. Here, it’s very unlikely for the worker to complete a retraining plan. In fact, the completion depends on significant basic adult education or repeating courses.
(2) If job modifications or ergonomic needs far exceed the norm in the job market.
(3) When a work injury claimant’s character and personality do not fit their retraining goal.
Vocational dispute and the law
The law is very clear in Washington State. Explicitly, to evaluate the worker’s capabilities, L&I must assess every individual as a whole person. Simply put, the vocational evaluation must consider factors such as age, educational background, strengths, and weaknesses. On top, they have to take into account past experience, training, and physical or bodily limitations. When deciding if a worker is employable in the general labor market, all these factors must come into play. For reference, see Fochtman v. Department of Labor and Industries, 7 Wn.App. 286, 499 P.2d 255 (1972).
Furthermore, if the goal is to obtain work, then vocational services under an L&I claim only provide minimal assistance. The courts in Washington State made it clear when it comes for a worker to be employable. Explicitly, the court rules that work injury claimants must be capable of obtaining work themselves. For details, see Leeper v. Department of Labor and Industries, 123 Wn. 2d 803, 817 P.2d 507 (1994).
Filing a vocational dispute with L&I
Many times, L&I approves retraining plans that are unrealistic. In such cases, it’s important to note that the work injury claimant has only 15 days to submit and dispute a vocational decision to the Office of Vocational Dispute Resolution (VDRO). The submission must outline deficiencies in the vocational plan. For that, L&I created a vocational dispute form. You can download the form from the L&I website. The form categorizes dispute issues that include “skills/aptitudes”, “medical (physical/mental)”, “labor market”, and “other”.
As a courtesy, I recommend clients to use L&I’s form. Furthermore, it’s important to provide arguments that fall under each category. However, very often, I find that most arguments fall into the “other” category. That’s because arguments rely on a holistic view of the worker’s likelihood of success. In essence, their success depends on their skills, aptitudes, and physical and mental abilities. Finally, personality traits and the ultimate ability to obtain employment also fall under the “other” category.
Additional vocational and employment resources
There are several other articles on our website that provide information relating to vocational counselors and vocational counseling for your L&I claim or self-insured employer workers’ compensation claim: