I am a voice for injured workers. I advocate, speak and sometime scream on their behalf. One of the most common complaints I receive from injured workers going through early intervention vocational services, is that they feel other people are making important decisions about their lives and their future, without any regard to the injured workers’ input, thoughts, or feelings. More on this topic below…
The Vocational Counselor
A vocational counselor may be assigned to an L&I claim or self-insured workers’ compensation claim at almost any point during the claim administration process. Early intervention is a type of vocational assignment. According to L&I, early intervention by vocational services can help an injured worker return to work, or continue to work for the employer of injury or their current employer. As the name suggests, early intervention usually occurs early in the open and active phase of a claim.
According to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC), early intervention services include, but are not limited to (1) Discussing early return to work options with the employer, worker, and attending provider; (2) Identifying return to work goals and barriers that may interfere with or prevent the injured worker from returning to or continuing to work; (3) Assisting employers with offers of employment; (4) Planning and working with the referral source on necessary job modification and pre-job accommodations; (5) Performing job analysis; (6) Assessing the injured workers need for preferred worker status and educating the worker on the preferred worker benefit, if appropriate. During early intervention, the vocational counselor is required to complete progress reports every 30 days. The vocational counselor must complete a closing report when early intervention services are concluded.
The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has published three publications as guides for early intervention: The “Attending Provider’s Return-to-Work Desk Reference” , the “Employer’s Return-to-Work Guide” and “Getting Back to Work: It’s Your Job and Your Future”. Across these publications is a common theme that early return to work is better for injured workers, better for employers, and helps to combat the “public health catastrophe” caused by disability from work related conditions. However, the presentation of information related to early intervention services seems disproportionate. The desk reference for attending providers is a 60 page detailed publication. The return-to-work guide for employers is a detailed 24 page publication. The document designed for injured workers is a 2 page pamphlet.
Is early intervention good for injured workers?
One of the most common complaints I receive from injured workers in early intervention, is that they feel other people are making important decisions about their lives and heir future, without any regard to the injured workers’ input, thoughts, or feelings. Quite frankly, as a representative of injured workers, I think this is a very legitimate complaint. In most of the cases I encounter, during early intervention, injured workers often lose their voice in the system and are forced to return to work (upon threat that benefits will be terminated) even if they are in significant pain and/or struggle to meet the demands of a typical workday and workweek.
L&I has studies and statistics backing their position that early intervention reduces long term disability. Based on my experience, I’m very skeptical that early intervention is as positive and productive as it is touted to be, especially for injured workers. While L&I may see an initial decline in the number of injured workers that remain off work, I end up seeing many of those injured workers further down the road with significant claim related issues. In my opinion, more time needs to be spent in early intervention analyzing the likelihood that the injured worker will successfully return to work on a continuous basis, rather than merely engaging in a numbers game designed to reduce the quantity of injured workers that are unable to work because of claim related conditions.