Members who have experienced an injury that has taken them off the job may benefit from a vocational rehabilitation program. These services can enhance those members' quality of life and help them return to work well-equipped to handle the job's requirements. Although these programs do come at a cost to the board, the investment can have the long-term advantage of keeping members healthier, happier and more loyal.
Vocational rehabilitation is a broad term covering a range of services intended to help an injured or disabled individual regain the functional capabilities needed to get back into the workforce. These services can be requested by the member or encouraged by the board and should be provided, at least partially, at the board's expense. Depending on the individual's needs, services may include:
- Assessment of the member's injury in relation to the current workplace
- Goal setting
- Skills analysis and training
- Information on self-care and injury prevention
- Psychological intervention to aid the member's return to work
- Identification of devices required to help the member on the job
Once a member is medically released to return to work, rehabilitation services turn toward on-the-job training, skill building and needs identification. These efforts often include facilitated conversations among the member, board and employer regarding necessary accommodations or light duty activity over a specified period of time.
Responsibilities of the Board
Once it becomes aware of an injury, the board should reach out to the member to begin discussing how it can aid in recovery, including providing information on any available medical and vocational rehabilitation services. Using the Department of Labor's Job Accommodation Network, the board can also familiarize itself with the array of offerings obtainable in the member's state and pass that information along to the member as a secondary resource for return-to-work assistance.
The board must remain proactive and maintain open lines of communication with the member and employer to ensure that everyone is apprised of the worker's recovery progress and notified of what the member may require upon return. The member should feel supported by the board and believe that trustees and other union representatives will help navigate their return to work. If a member can't return to the same job, the board should be prepared to help them communicate with the employer to find an appropriate accommodation or other possible position. Vocational rehab can be leveraged to help train the member for this new position and update their skills.
Enhancing Member Health
The ultimate goal of this form of rehabilitation is to help members return to work as safely and quickly as possible. According to research conducted by the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC), helping members get back to work as soon as possible after an injury aids in recovery and reduces lost productivity.
"Return to work plays a significant role in the health and recovery of the individual, the reduction of disability, and the improvement of productivity and security," the organization finds. "It also mitigates significant costs to employers, taxpayers, and society as a whole." The IAIABC highlights several benefits to keeping members connected to the workplace during recovery, including the opportunity to make a positive impact on society, improved recovery rates and longer life expectancy. Once the individual has recovered, getting back to work helps eliminate stress from financial concerns and lowered confidence in the ability to perform on the job.
Although the board incurs a financial burden by providing these services, vocational rehabilitation ultimately protects members' interests. Offering this peace of mind to members has a long-term payoff for the board in loyalty and productivity — and members can be confident in their ability to maintain their standard of living and their overall health.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.