Decision #46/99 - Type: Workers Compensation
PreambleAn Appeal Panel hearing was held on February 11, 1999, at the request of a union representative, acting on behalf of the claimant. The Panel discussed this appeal on February 12, 1999.
Whether the claimant is entitled to vocational rehabilitation assistance subsequent to July 12, 1998; and
Whether the claimant should be supported in a self-employment venture.
That the claimant is entitled to vocational rehabilitation assistance subsequent to July 12, 1998; and
That the claimant should be supported in a self-employment venture if it can be demonstrated to be cost effective and if it can be demonstrated the worker cannot take advantage of other conventional vocational rehabilitation programs.
On April 25, 1996, the claimant was employed as a nurse at a correctional institute when a prison riot occurred. As a result of the incident, the claimant was diagnosed with “Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety” and “Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent (in remission). The claim was accepted as a responsibility of the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) and benefits were paid between April and September of 1996. On August 28, 1996, the claimant commenced a return to work program but then experienced a recurrence in July 1997. Wage loss benefits were reinstated. The claimant’s benefits were paid by the WCB’s Vocational Rehabilitation Branch based upon her participation in a return to work program.
In a letter to all concerned dated January 26, 1998, the WCB clarified that the claimant had the ability to work alone in the community under the following conditions:
- refrain from working in a correctional setting.
- work with a familiar & stable client base.
- work with clients without a history of violence.
- access to a cell phone when out in the community.
- preferred work in residential areas as opposed to core areas.
The following is a brief summary outlining the claimant’s involvement with the WCB’s vocational rehabilitation branch:
- on January 28, 1998, a temporary employment placement was arranged by the employer for the claimant to work in a clerical capacity. The duties included preparing information packages for judges and lawyers as well as some reception work. The claimant, however, did not accept the job placement for various reasons, i.e. she felt the work was not in keeping with her skills; she did not trust the employer; she was concerned that she could come into contact with ex-inmates, gang members; she did not feel the WCB was acting in her best interest. After further discussion with WCB personnel and the claimant’s treating physicians, it was agreed that the claimant should not return to work with the employer.
- a March 3, 1998, memo by a Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant (VRC) documented that the claimant was giving some thought towards starting her own business in a catering related type operation. The VRC advised the claimant that given the parameters of the WCB’s vocational rehabilitation, she would not be supported her in such an endeavor.
- an April 27, 1998, VRC memo indicated that the claimant was offered a medical reader position through the driver’s licensing department. The claimant declined the position as she felt the placement did not utilize her skills and abilities. The claimant felt it was a dead-end job, that it was clerical in nature and did not respect her abilities. The claimant expressed a desire to work for the Medical Examiner’s Office.
- on May 6, 1998, a meeting was held at Emergency Measures Services to discuss potential projects that were available for the claimant. These included research on accident reduction, research on injury prevention, etc. On May 11, 1998, the claimant expressed her concerns that she would not be able to do these jobs as she did not consider herself to be suited for desk work. The claimant insisted that she be allowed to review the possibilities of working at the Medical Examiner’s Office. A subsequent memo, dated June 2, 1998, confirmed that there were no potential positions available for the claimant through the Medical Examiner’s Office.
- the claimant agreed to commence a graduated return to work with the Emergency Medical Services commencing June 1, 1998. In a memo, dated June 30, 1998, the VRC recorded that the claimant stopped work as she felt uncomfortable with the lack of structure, the fact it was office work and the lack of immediate feedback.
On July 9, 1998, the VRC wrote to the claimant and advised that the claimant had been offered employment consistent with her abilities and skills and that the employment respected her restrictions and allowed her an opportunity to recapture her pre-accident earnings. The VRC felt the claimant had exhausted the services and resources available to her. Vocational programming was dependent on the claimant’s willingness to participate and as the claimant chose to remove herself from this process, the VRC recommended that benefits and services end on July 12, 1998.
In a submission to Review Office, dated September 3, 1998, a union representative appealed the WCB’s decision to terminate the claimant’s benefits. In support, the union representative outlined several points:
- the claimant did not feel that she had any input into the job placements offered to her. The employer and the VRC were selecting jobs that they alone felt were suitable for her.
- the job offer at Emergency Medical Services had various limitations such as no job description, mostly sitting at a desk, not structured, no concrete commitment to train the claimant on computer skills, and the claimant was not sure the job permitted her to accumulate professional hours in order to maintain her nursing license.
- the position at the Law Courts was not suitable as the claimant could possibly encounter prison inmates.
- the position at the Department of Highways did not allow for the maintenance of the claimant’s nursing license and was not sufficiently challenging.
- the claimant wished to pursue a home based business and requested further rehabilitation assistance.
In a decision of October 9, 1998, the Review Office determined that the claimant was not entitled to vocational rehabilitation assistance subsequent to July 12, 1998 and that the claimant should not be supported in a self-employment venture. The Review Office considered that the claimant had been given ample opportunity to return to work with the accident employer in positions which reasonably respected her needs and provided her with earnings at least equal to her pre-accident level.
With regard to Board Policy 184.108.40.206, Post Accident Earnings - Deemed Earning Capacity, the Review Office was of the opinion that the claimant’s actions over a period of time were tantamount to a refusal to cooperate in the vocational rehabilitation process. As such, the decision to discontinue wage loss benefits and vocational rehabilitation services was confirmed.
With respect to the issue regarding the claimant’s self-employment venture, the Review Office took into consideration Board Policy 44.101, Financial Assistance for Self-Employment. The Review Office considered that even if it were determined the claimant was entitled to further vocational rehabilitation assistance, the WCB would not support a self-employment venture. “It is considered that the claimant was able to ‘take advantage of other conventional vocational rehabilitation programs’ and that self-employment would not be a cost effective alternative to same.”
On October 28, 1998, the union representative acting on behalf of the claimant appealed the Review Office’s decision to the Appeal Commission and an oral hearing was arranged for February 11, 1998. On February 10, 1999, a submission was received from the employer’s advocate which was considered by the Appeal Panel.
Following the hearing, the claimant provided the Appeal Panel with a facsimile copy of her application for a position with the Medical Examiner’s Office, dated May 11, 1998. This was forwarded to the Appeal Panel members and all interested parties on February 16, 1999.
Chairperson MacNeil and Commissioner Frisken:
Section 27(20) of the Workers Compensation Act provides that the WCB has the discretion, where advisable, to provide academic, vocational training and rehabilitative assistance to a worker. According to WCB policy section 43.00, “The goal of vocational rehabilitation is to help the worker to achieve a return to sustainable employment in an occupation which reasonably takes into consideration the worker’s post-injury physical capacity, skills, aptitudes and, where possible, interests. The WCB will help the worker as much as possible to be as employable as she/he was before the accident. Once this is done and where necessary, the WCB will provide reasonable assistance to the worker so that she/he actually returns to work. However, services may not always continue until the worker actually returns to work.”
The WCB clearly determined in this case that the claimant was eligible for rehabilitation assistance. An initial vocational rehabilitation plan was outlined by a vocational rehabilitation consultant (VRC) in memorandum to file, dated January 15th, 1998. However, a thorough review of the file failed to disclose an individualized written rehabilitation plan as prescribed by policy 43.00. “Where rehabilitation services are provided, the goals and responsibilities of the worker, the WCB, and the employer (where involved) will be identified through a written vocational rehabilitation plan. When developing the plan, the worker, the employer, and the WCB will pursue the established hierarchy of objectives.” The policy goes on to itemize what the actual written plan will include.
It would appear from the evidence that there was never any co-ordinated or concerted effort by the WCB and the employer to establish a viable vocational rehabilitation plan which took into consideration the claimant’s post-injury mental state, her education and training, her skills and aptitudes and her interests. In this regard, we paid particularly close attention to the comments of the treating psychiatrist which are contained in his letter to the claimant’s union representative, dated January 30th, 1999. The psychiatrist recorded the following observations:
“In my opinion, the positions offered to [the claimant] by the WCB were not suitable or consistent with opinions and recommendations made by me in my letters to and conversations with the WCB. Nor do I feel that the positions offered were consistent with what I took to be the opinions and conclusions reached by the WCB in the persons of [the case manager, the VRC and the treating psychologist to whom the claimant had been referred by the WCB]. I was under the impression that they had arrived at an understanding of the fact that [the claimant] could only function productively in a setting where she would not become distracted, preoccupied and paralyzed by fears for her safety.
Perhaps I was naive to assume that the positions offered to her would be appropriate to her training, education, ability, previous work experience and areas of demonstrated competence. Accordingly I expected that the WCB would try to find her hands-on nursing positions while taking into consideration the psychological restrictions brought about by the traumatic experience initiated at the riot and further aggravated by the incidents that occurred when she returned to work in the prison and when she testified in court.
As I said in my previous correspondence to the WCB, [the claimant] needs to work in a setting in which she will not feel at risk for her safety. She is trained, qualified and experienced as a nurse. There is no reason for her to work in any capacity other than as a nurse. The psychological and emotional sequelae she is left with in no way precludes her continuing to work as a nurse. It does preclude her from working in a setting that would contribute to her feeling that she is in danger of physical harm. I do not feel that I have the expertise to comment on other types of work she might be suited to in the event that a nursing job was unavailable.”
We find that there had not been an adequate vocational rehabilitation plan developed for the claimant. In accordance with the weight of evidence and WCB policy, we further find that the claimant is entitled to vocational assistance subsequent to July 12th, 1998. It is our recommendation that the WCB establish a plan for the claimant which reflects both the intent of policy 43.00 and satisfies the goals and objectives of vocational rehabilitation.
As the background notes indicate, the claimant has also appealed the WCB’s refusal to support her in a self-employment venture. The claimant feels that she is entitled to financial assistance given that “the rehabilitation process has failed to succeed.” WCB policy 44.101 deals with financial assistance for self-employment. It states, in part, as follows: “The board may provide financial assistance for self-employment or business opportunities where an injured worker cannot take advantage of other conventional vocational rehabilitation programs, or where self-employment is a preferred cost-effective measure to allow the injured worker to reach maximum earnings.”
Inasmuch as we have recommended that the WCB institute a suitable vocational rehabilitation plan, it is not possible at this point in time to determine whether the claimant’s self-employment venture would be more cost effective than the yet to be determined vocational rehabilitation plan. However, it might be an option worth exploring by the WCB when it comes to designing the claimant’s plan.
Panel MembersR. W. MacNeil, Presiding Officer
A. Finkel, Commissioner
R. Frisken, Commissioner
Recording Secretary, B. Miller
R. W. MacNeil - Presiding Officer
(on behalf of the panel)
Signed at Winnipeg this 16th day of March, 1999