If an employer in North Carolina admits liability for the worker’s injury or occupational disease, and if they are providing benefits to the injured or disabled worker, the employer is allowed to hire rehabilitation professionals to work with the employee.
The stated purpose for rehabilitation professionals is to promote the medical and vocational rehabilitation of the injured worker.
While this is a worthy goal, and certainly should be the purpose of these rehabilitation professionals, in actual practice and in the vast majority of the cases, the real purpose of the rehabilitation professional is vastly different.
It has been the observation of attorney Brent Adams, as well as the observation of virtually all lawyers who practice in the workers’ compensation field in North Carolina, that the real purpose of the rehabilitation professional is to assist the employer in its effort to terminate the worker’s benefits.
The rehabilitation professionals are hired by the insurance companies. In many instances, the rehabilitation professionals are employed as direct full-time employees of a subsidiary of workers’ compensation carrier. The insurance companies dictate each and every aspect of the involvement of the rehabilitation professional and their interaction with the injured worker.
The biblical truism that “a man cannot serve two masters” has great application in the field of rehabilitation professionals who work in the workers’ compensation arena. These rehabilitation professionals know who pays their salaries and who is responsible for their income and profits. They will not “bite the hand that feeds them.”
The NC Industrial Commission has promulgated a detailed set of rules for utilization by rehabilitation professionals. Among the requirements set out in these rules is that the rehabilitation professional:
“Shall exercise independent professional judgment in making and documenting recommendations for medical and vocational rehabilitation for the injured worker, including any alternatives for medical treatment and cost-effective return-to-work options including retraining or retirement. The rehabilitation professional shall realize that the attending physician directs the medical care of an injured worker.”
This very important requirement of the North Carolina Industrial Commission is largely ignored in practice by rehabilitation professionals.
Workers' comp lawyer Brent Adams personally knows at least one rehabilitation professional who was fired by their employer, a large corporation providing vocational rehabilitation services for insurance companies. This rehabiliation professional was fired because they made honest determinations as to whether workers were disabled. The rehab counselor refused to bow to demands by the insurance company to say that a worker was not disabled when they honestly felt that the worker was disabled. The counselor was fired because they exercised independent judgment in carrying out the duties of their profession.
With this type of environment in which vocational rehabilitation professionals work, it is understandable why most of them bow to their employers. In that situation, it takes a strong person to stand up to the insurance companies. If they refuse to do the bidding of their insurance company employers, they do not last long in the profession.
There are a few rehabilitation professionals, however, who do take their work seriously and try their best to do an honest job. It is unfair to these few individuals to paint all rehabilitation professionals with this broad brush. We are therefore careful to point out that there are a few exceptions, but they are in the very small minority. Contact our workers' comp attorneys before speaking with a vocational rehabilitation counselor and read these tips for meeting with vocational rehabilitation counselors.