An injured worker with permanent limits who cannot return to their injury employer generally is entitled to vocatational retraining benefits. The worker’s compensation carrier covers the whole package: weekly benefits (at 2/3 of wages), plus meals, mileage expenses, and fee expenses during every week in school. Full cost of tuition and books is also covered!
In many instances, however, workers have not been in a school setting since they began their work career-often many years in the past. As such, a traditional full-time academic retraining program may be a daunting challenge. Many of these workers do not have a high school degree, and therefore, they need a G.E.D/H.S.E.D. before they can even contemplate an official associate degree (or even bachelor’s degree) program. Under Wisconsin law, retraining benefits are possible while attempting a G.E.D. program-especially if the the program requires regular attendance and has formal instructors in a classroom setting. (See example Schneidewend v. Randstad Staffing Services USA Inc., WC Claim No. 2004-001650 (LIRC Dec. 17, 2009).
As both an advocate and (somewhat) a social worker, we strongly encourage a GED program for an injured worker who was knocked out of their former field or profession due to an injury. If the worker was formerly in a physical field (e.g., construction or concrete), a GED is an absolute requirement to the necessary academic degree that would restore the previous earning capacity.
I read with some concern that the GED testing standards are changing in 2014. (See “Raising the G.E.D. Bar Stirs Concern for Students, New York Times, 10/11/13). Apparently, the test will be harder and, unfortunately, more expensive. Regardless of the academic basis for these changes, there is concern about a worker’s ability to restore a lost earning capacity with a higher GED standard. A worker-long absent from an academic setting-faces a number of hurdles to successful completion of a program, including functional abilities, pain levels, family or child care constraints, and monetary issues. If there are further barriers before a worker can even have the opportunity to complete a school or degree program, the worker may never successfully get back to their level of income before an injury.
On a final note, a harder GED program may obligate a worker’s compensation insurance carrier to pay vocational retraining benefits for a much longer period of time-during the entire time the worker/student tries to pass the new test!