Department Concludes that an Injured Worker Can Reinstate Vocational Rehabilitation Services After Agreeing to Close Them.
The Department has addressed the impact of a VR Closure in the past, and has consistently held that the employer’s obligation to provide VR benefits is not open-ended, as some lifelong benefit. Indeed, the general rule that has developed is that once the VR file is closed and the DOL approves that closure, it tends to stay that way. Thus, an injured worker who was laid off after his file was closed due to a successful return to work, was not entitled to a reinstatement of VR benefits in Gillock v. Package it Systems, Op. No. 57-03WC (Dec. 31, 2013). See also, Jarvis v. Montgomery Dev. Corp., 73-96WC (Nov. 25, 1996) (injured worker not entitled to reinstatement after his non-approved effort at self-employment failed).
In Laura Samson v. Gifford Medical Center, Inc., Op. No. 11-18WC (July 5, 2018), the Department held that the injured worker’s agreement to close her VR benefit was voluntary, even though the Department accepted her testimony that she didn’t understand the ramifications of that agreement. However, in taking a turn away from precedent, the Department went on to allow her petition to reopen her VR benefit. Because no rule currently governs when an injured worker might be allowed to rescind a voluntary resignation of services, the Department viewed her claim under a “totality of circumstances” analysis. Here, the Department was influenced by the injured worker’s legitimate efforts to find work and the fact that she sought reinstatement of VR benefits within three weeks of voluntarily relinquishing her right to them. Finding no prejudice to the employer and an ongoing causal connection between the claimant’s lack of employment and her work injury, the Department concluded it would be “fundamentally unjust” to deny her reinstatement. In an unusual twist, the published decision – found here (link) – then ends with . . . a poem.
The facts of this case were very favorable to the claimant; as such, this decision isn’t likely to be representative of a shift in favor of reinstatement in other cases, after a closure is approved. However, proposed VR Rule 57.1500, if passed, will provide more certainty in the future. Under that rule, an injured worker will have 6 months to rescind a request for termination of services, at which point they “shall” resume. After 6 months, the injured worker will be required to show good cause. In those cases, the “totality of the circumstances” analysis will presumably be back in play.