2011 ORS § 656.340¹
Vocational assistance procedure
  • eligibility criteria
  • service providers
  • resolution of vocational assistance disputes
  • rules

(1)(a) The insurer or self-insured employer shall cause vocational assistance to be provided to an injured worker who is eligible for assistance in returning to work.

(b) For this purpose the insurer or self-insured employer shall contact a worker with a claim for a disabling compensable injury or claim for aggravation for evaluation of the workers eligibility for vocational assistance within five days of:

(A) Having knowledge of the workers likely eligibility for vocational assistance, from a medical or investigation report, notification from the worker, or otherwise; or

(B) The time the worker is medically stationary, if the worker has not returned to or been released for the workers regular employment or has not returned to other suitable employment with the employer at the time of injury or aggravation and the worker is not receiving vocational assistance.

(c) Eligibility may be redetermined by the insurer or self-insured employer upon receipt of new information that would change the eligibility determination.

(2) Contact under subsection (1) of this section shall include informing the worker about reemployment rights, the responsibility of the worker to request reemployment, and wage subsidy and job site modification assistance and the provisions of the preferred worker program pursuant to rules adopted by the Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services.

(3) Within five days after notification that the attending physician or nurse practitioner authorized to provide compensable medical services under ORS 656.245 (Medical services to be provided) has released a worker to return to work, the insurer or self-insured employer shall inform the worker about the opportunity to seek reemployment or reinstatement under ORS 659A.043 (Reinstatement of injured worker to former position) and 659A.046 (Reemployment of injured worker in other available and suitable work). The insurer shall inform the employer of the workers reemployment rights, wage subsidy and the job site modification assistance and the provisions of the preferred worker program.

(4) As soon as possible, and not more than 30 days after the contact required by subsection (1) of this section, the insurer or self-insured employer shall cause an individual certified by the director to provide vocational assistance to determine whether the worker is eligible for vocational assistance. The insurer or self-insured employer shall notify the worker of the decision regarding the workers eligibility for vocational assistance. If the insurer or self-insured employer decides that the worker is not eligible, the worker may apply to the director for review of the decision as provided in subsection (16) of this section. A worker determined ineligible upon evaluation under subsection (1)(b)(B) of this section, or because the workers eligibility has fully and finally expired under standards prescribed by the director, may not be found eligible thereafter unless that eligibility determination is rejected by the director under subsection (16) of this section or the workers condition worsens so as to constitute an aggravation claim under ORS 656.273 (Aggravation for worsened conditions). A worker is not entitled to vocational assistance benefits when possible eligibility for such benefits arises from a worsening of the workers condition that occurs after the expiration of the workers aggravation rights under ORS 656.273 (Aggravation for worsened conditions).

(5) The objectives of vocational assistance are to return the worker to employment which is as close as possible to the workers regular employment at a wage as close as possible to the weekly wage currently being paid for employment which was the workers regular employment even though the wage available following employment may be less than the wage prescribed by subsection (6) of this section. As used in this subsection and subsection (6) of this section, regular employment means the employment the worker held at the time of the injury or the claim for aggravation under ORS 656.273 (Aggravation for worsened conditions), whichever gave rise to the potential eligibility for vocational assistance; or, for a worker not employed at the time of the aggravation, the employment the worker held on the last day of work prior to the aggravation.

(6)(a) A worker is eligible for vocational assistance if the worker will not be able to return to the previous employment or to any other available and suitable employment with the employer at the time of injury or aggravation, and the worker has a substantial handicap to employment.

(b) As used in this subsection:

(A) A substantial handicap to employment exists when the worker, because of the injury or aggravation, lacks the necessary physical capacities, knowledge, skills and abilities to be employed in suitable employment.

(B) Suitable employment means:

(i) Employment of the kind for which the worker has the necessary physical capacity, knowledge, skills and abilities;

(ii) Employment that is located where the worker customarily worked or is within reasonable commuting distance of the workers residence; and

(iii) Employment that produces a weekly wage within 20 percent of that currently being paid for employment that was the workers regular employment as defined in subsection (5) of this section. The director shall adopt rules providing methods of calculating the weekly wage currently being paid for the workers regular employment for use in determining eligibility and for providing assistance to eligible workers. If the workers regular employment was seasonal or temporary, the workers wage shall be averaged based on a combination of the workers earned income and any unemployment insurance payments. Only earned income evidenced by verifiable documentation such as federal or state tax returns shall be used in the calculation. Earned income does not include fringe benefits or reimbursement of the workers employment expenses.

(7) Vocational evaluation, help in directly obtaining employment and training shall be available under conditions prescribed by the director. The director may establish other conditions for providing vocational assistance, including those relating to the workers availability for assistance, participation in previous assistance programs connected with the same claim and the nature and extent of assistance that may be provided. Such conditions shall give preference to direct employment assistance over training.

(8) An insurer or self-insured employer may utilize its own staff or may engage any other individual certified by the director to perform the vocational evaluation required by subsection (4) of this section.

(9) The director shall adopt rules providing:

(a) Standards for and methods of certifying individuals qualified by education, training and experience to provide vocational assistance to injured workers;

(b) Standards for registration of vocational assistance providers;

(c) Conditions and procedures under which the certification of an individual to provide vocational assistance services or the registration of a vocational assistance provider may be suspended or revoked for failure to maintain compliance with the certification or registration standards;

(d) Standards for the nature and extent of services a worker may receive, for plans for return to work and for determining when the worker has returned to work; and

(e) Procedures, schedules and conditions relating to the payment for services performed by a vocational assistance provider, that are based on payment for specific services performed and not fees for services performed on an hourly basis. Fee schedules shall reflect a reasonable rate for direct worker purchases and for all vocational assistance providers and shall be the same within suitable geographic areas.

(10) Insurers and self-insured employers shall maintain records and make reports to the director of vocational assistance actions at times and in the manner as the director may prescribe. The requirements prescribed shall be for the purpose of assisting the Department of Consumer and Business Services in monitoring compliance with this section to insure that workers receive timely and appropriate vocational assistance. The director shall minimize to the greatest extent possible the number, extent and kinds of reports required. The director shall compile a list of organizations or agencies registered to provide vocational assistance. A current list shall be distributed by the director to all insurers and self-insured employers. The insurer shall send the list to each worker with the notice of eligibility.

(11) When a worker is eligible to receive vocational assistance, the worker and the insurer or self-insured employer shall attempt to agree on the choice of a vocational assistance provider. If the worker agrees, the insurer or self-insured employer may utilize its own staff to provide vocational assistance. If they are unable to agree on a vocational assistance provider, the insurer or self-insured employer shall notify the director and the director shall select a provider. Any change in the choice of vocational assistance provider is subject to the approval of the director.

(12) Notwithstanding ORS 656.268 (Claim closure), a worker actively engaged in training may receive temporary disability compensation for a maximum of 16 months. The insurer or self-insured employer may voluntarily extend the payment of temporary disability compensation to a maximum of 21 months. The costs related to vocational assistance training programs may be paid for periods longer than 21 months, but in no event may temporary disability benefits be paid for a period longer than 21 months.

(13) As used in this section, vocational assistance provider means a public or private organization or agency that provides vocational assistance to injured workers.

(14)(a) Determination of eligibility for vocational assistance does not entitle all workers to the same type or extent of assistance.

(b) Training shall not be provided to an eligible worker solely because the worker cannot obtain employment, otherwise suitable, that will produce the wage prescribed in subsection (6) of this section unless such training will enable the worker to find employment which will produce a wage significantly closer to that prescribed in subsection (6) of this section.

(c) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to expand the availability of training under this section.

(15) A physical capacities evaluation shall be performed in conjunction with vocational assistance or determination of eligibility for such assistance at the request of the insurer or self-insured employer or worker. The request shall be made to the attending physician or nurse practitioner authorized to provide compensable medical services under ORS 656.245 (Medical services to be provided). The attending physician or nurse practitioner, within 20 days of the request, shall perform a physical capacities evaluation or refer the worker for such evaluation or advise the insurer or self-insured employer and the worker in writing that the injured worker is incapable of participating in a physical capacities evaluation.

(16)(a) The Legislative Assembly finds that vocational rehabilitation of injured workers requires a high degree of cooperation between all of the participants in the vocational assistance process. Based on this finding, the Legislative Assembly concludes that disputes regarding eligibility for and extent of vocational assistance services should be resolved through nonadversarial procedures to the greatest extent possible consistent with constitutional principles. The director shall adopt by rule a procedure for resolving vocational assistance disputes in the manner provided in this subsection.

(b) If a worker is dissatisfied with an action of the insurer or self-insured employer regarding vocational assistance, the worker must apply to the director for administrative review of the matter. Application for review must be made not later than the 60th day after the date the worker was notified of the action. The director shall complete the review within a reasonable time.

(c) If the workers dissatisfaction is resolved by agreement of the parties, the agreement shall be reduced to writing, and the director and the parties shall review the agreement and either approve or disapprove it. The agreement is subject to reconsideration by the director under limitations prescribed by the director, but is not subject to review by any other forum.

(d) If the workers dissatisfaction is not resolved by agreement of the parties, the director shall resolve the matter in a written order based on a record sufficient to permit review. The order is subject to review under ORS 656.704 (Actions and orders regarding matters concerning claim and matters other than matters concerning claim). The request for a hearing must be filed within 60 days of the date the order was issued. At the hearing, the order of the director shall be modified only if it:

(A) Violates a statute or rule;

(B) Exceeds the statutory authority of the agency;

(C) Was made upon unlawful procedure; or

(D) Was characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.

(e) For purposes of this subsection, the term parties does not include a noncomplying employer. [1981 c.535 §2; 1985 c.600 §11; 1987 c.884 §15; 1990 c.2 §27; 1995 c.332 §42; amendments by 1995 c.332 §42a repealed by 1999 c.6 §1; 2003 c.811 §§15,16; 2007 c.365 §8; 2009 c.35 §1; 2009 c.312 §1]

Note: See notes under 656.202 (Compensation payable to subject worker in accordance with law in effect at time of injury).