Vocational disability is a common issue in workers’ compensation cases. In other words, how does my work-related injury impact my ability to find or keep work in the future? Often, workers’ compensation benefits can be paid based on vocational disability.
Even when healthy, our ability to work is impacted by a number of factors. These include: age, experience, and education. In order to evaluate fully how a permanent injury affects your ability to work in the future, we must first consider the jobs available to you prior to that injury based on these factors such as age, experience, and education. Yet, this is exactly where many insurance carriers ignore the real facts.
In the past year, I have had several trials where the injured worker did not possess a high school degree. In each case, the injured worker had a long and successful work history before their injury. In each case, the injured worker experienced severe back or neck injuries in an accident, required surgery, and eventually suffered permanent chronic pain and restrictions.
At the trial of each case, the insurance company’s vocational expert ignored the fact that many jobs require a high school diploma. Instead, in each case, the insurance carrier tried to paint a rosy picture of lots of available work for the injured worker. On cross-examination, I was able to reveal the truth to the Court that the insurance company and its expert had painted a false picture by ignoring the issues of education and experience. However, I am left to consider how often insurance carriers succeed in falsely presenting the vocational issues.
The level of education is a big deal in determining the correct benefits due a worker with significant physical injuries. Instead of ignoring the truth, these insurance carriers have an honest choice – Either evaluate the worker based on his correct educational background OR provide vocational rehabilitation so that the injured worker receives additional education needed to find work within their restrictions.
If you want to understand just how difficult it is to find and keep full-time employment without an advanced education (even when you are perfectly healthy), here is a quote for you from recent research conducted at Rutgers University:
Overall, only 3 in 10 high school graduates are employed full time, compared to college graduates who are employed at nearly twice that rate. For those who graduated high school in 2006, 2007, and 2008 — before the recession — 37% are employed full time, compared to only 16% who graduated during the recession era.
The research from Rutgers paints a clear picture of how difficulty the job market can be for healthy workers without some advanced education. I would add that many of the jobs available to workers with just a high school degree, or less, are also jobs that require significant physical labor. So, just imagine how truly difficult it can be for a worker without a high school degree to actually find employment after suffering an injury that restricts his physical abilities. If you are a visual person and like graphs, blogger Stuart Staniford took the Rutgers research and created a graph depicting the data. Political blogger Kevin Drum has also discussed the data in recent posts. The graph is below:
The graph clearly shows that pre-recession, the majority of individuals with only a high school diploma were not employed in stable full-time work. That’s during the good times. In times of recession, those figures are much worse. In evaluating vocational disability, workers’ compensation carriers must consider the impact of factors like education. Unfortunately, they usually do not. Because of that, if you or a family member has suffered a significant work-related injury that has made it difficult to find work, an attorney who understands workers’ compensation issues should be consulted. These issues are too important for working families to ignore.
by Jeff Blackwell