(a)(1) Any employer who without reasonable cause refuses to return an employee who is injured in the course of employment to work, where suitable employment is available within the employee's physical and mental limitations, upon order of the Workers' Compensation Commission, and in addition to other benefits, shall be liable to pay to the employee the difference between benefits received and the average weekly wages lost during the period of the refusal, for a period not exceeding one (1) year.
(2) In determining the availability of employment, the continuance in business of the employer shall be considered, and any written rules promulgated by the employer with respect to seniority or the provisions of any collective bargaining agreement with respect to seniority shall control.
(b)(1) In addition to benefits otherwise provided for by this chapter, an employee who is entitled to receive compensation benefits for permanent disability and who has not been offered an opportunity to return to work or reemployment assistance shall be paid reasonable expenses of travel and maintenance and other necessary costs of a program of vocational rehabilitation if the commission finds that the program is reasonable in relation to the disability sustained by the employee.
(2) The employer's responsibility for additional payments shall not exceed seventy-two (72) weeks, regardless of the length of the program requested.
(3) The employee shall not be required to enter any program of vocational rehabilitation against his or her consent; however, no employee who waives rehabilitation or refuses to participate in or cooperate for reasonable cause with either an offered program of rehabilitation or job placement assistance shall be entitled to permanent partial disability benefits in excess of the percentage of permanent physical impairment established by objective physical findings.
(4) A request for the program, if elected by the claimant, must be filed with the commission prior to a determination of the amount of permanent disability benefits payable to the employee.
(c) This section shall not be construed as creating an exception to the common law regarding employment at will.
(d) The purpose and intent of this section is to place an emphasis on returning the injured worker to work, while still allowing and providing for vocational rehabilitation programs when determined appropriate by the commission.
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