Posts Tagged ‘Job Voucher’

The Value of the Supplement Job Displacement Benefit (The “Job Voucher”)

Written by Maurice Abarr on . Posted in Workers Compensation

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Between approximately 1975 and 2008, injured workers in California were provided Vocational Rehabilitation when their injuries resulted in a disability that kept them from returning to the same kind of work they had been doing when they were injured. The insurance and labor management lobbies banded together in the 1990s and began a concerted effort to whittle down the “cost” of Vocational Rehabilitation.

In the 1980s, I handled several cases that involved injured workers receiving Vocational Rehabilitation programs that had price tags that exceeded $100,000 in total value. The employers and their insurance carriers declared such costs to be “abusive” and raised “Holy Hell” in Sacramento through their lobbyists.

Eventually, a ceiling was put on how much could be spent on Vocational Rehabilitation. The last ceiling was $16,000. Frankly, you could not accomplish much for that amount. Consequently, injured workers routinely instructed their lawyers to “get me what you can” in cash and forget the so-called Vocational Rehabilitation benefit. As a consequence of a few years of this, the employers and insurance carriers saw a new opportunity: They argued that no one uses Vocational Rehabilitation so it should be discontinued altogether.

Advocates for injured workers in Sacramento strove to keep some semblance of Vocational Rehabilitation available for injured workers. The new benefit we ended up with for injured workers was called “Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits” or what has become known more commonly as “the Job Voucher”.

Again, significant limitations were placed on who could get this benefit. For example, if the injured worker was offered an alternative job by his or her employer that paid him at least 85% of what he or she was making at the time of their injury, they were not entitled to the benefit. The injured worker must be able to perform the essential functions of the alternative job offered and the job must be within “reasonable” commuting distance from the injured worker’s residence. Further, the employer has to pay 15% less in Permanent Partial Disability benefits if a bona fide offer of alternative or modified work is offered by the employer. However, the modified or alternative job the employer offers must last for at least twelve (12) months and the job offer must be made within thirty (30) days of termination of Total Temporary Disability benefits (California Labor Code §4658.6).

Other limitations with the Job Voucher are: If the injured worker returns to work for the employer within sixty (60) days of termination of Temporary Total Disability benefits, no Job Voucher is available. (California Code of Regulations §10133.56) If the injured worker is a seasonal worker, they return to work on the next available work date of the next work season.

As before, there were monetary limitations placed on the amount that would be spent by the insurance carrier for each Job Voucher. The amount varied between $4,000 and $10,000, depending upon the percentage of permanent partial disability awarded the injured worker. Essentially, the Job Voucher could be spent for tuition and educational materials with schools that were approved by the State of California’s Department of Workers’ Compensation. None of the Job Voucher money was paid directly to the injured worker.

Much like before, few injured workers actually used the Job Voucher – finding little value in being able to attend classes for training in jobs that may never come – and told their lawyers to settle the benefit for as much money as could be negotiated. Most insurance carriers insisted upon significant discounting of the dollar amount.

With the most recent legislative reform of Workers’ Compensation in California (SB 863) enacted in 2012 and effective January 1, 2013, two new developments have come about for the Job Voucher:

  1. The amount of the Job Voucher is now $6,000 for all injured workers who were hurt on or after January 1, 2013 – irrespective of the level of their individual Permanent Partial Disability.
  2. This benefit is supposedly not to be settled by the injured worker or the insurance company.

Note: Some of the lawyers on both sides – for the injured worker and the insurance company – may well develop a way whereby they can circumvent the new law prohibiting settlement of the $4,000 Job Voucher. We recommend those with serious injuries to AVOID the temptation to take the $4,000 or (worse) a discounted number and USE the Job Voucher.

MAURICE’S RECOMMENDATION: Do not settle the Job Voucher. Retain the assistance of a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor through my office who will accept 10% of the voucher (i.e., $400) to help guide you through the initial process I envision for you. If you are unable to benefit from a full and earnest utilization of the Job Voucher, this lack of a productive end result from that effort constitutes evidence that can be used by your lawyer. A developed inability to benefit from Vocational Rehabilitation — the stated purpose of the Job Voucher – will be evidence that can be presented to the Trial Judge in your case through a Vocational Rehabilitation expert (possibly the same counselor who guided you through the initial process).

Using the Job Voucher in this way can increase the percentage of Permanent Partial Disability. In extreme cases, it may prove Permanent Total Disability.

On other hand, if you benefit from the Job Voucher, this is good news also. And, you have a better chance of obtaining actual benefit with the assistance of a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor to whom we can refer you.

NOTICE:  Making a false or fraudulent Workers Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in prison or a fine of up to $50,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

 

 

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE INJURED WORKER AFTER GETTING AN AWARD OR SETTLEMENT?

Written by Maurice Abarr on . Posted in Workers Compensation

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Actually, it might just as easily be called, “Where Has All the Vocational Rehabilitation Gone?” Or, better still, “JOB VOUCHERS: The Remnants of What Was Once Called ‘Vocational Rehabilitation.’”

The Ever-shrinking Benefit
Between the late ‘70s and the early ‘90s, we had true vocational rehabilitation in California. Then, a perception began to be fostered that it was “too expensive” for employers (and their insurance carriers) so, of course, it was touted as being “abused.” (I will try to temper my sarcasm but, after all, I have represented injured workers for more than 30 years.)

In 1993, the Legislature imposed a monetary limit of $16,000 on an individual vocational rehabilitation program–even though the average cost of a rehabilitation program before 1993 was around $40,000. Predictably, $16,000 was not enough to finance any meaningful vocational rehabilitation for the average injured worker. So, everyone started “settling VR”–i.e., they took the cash and went without any vocational rehabilitation.

Note: Occasionally the carriers would pay the full $16,000 to settle the benefit but, as time went by, they exercised the Golden Rule (“the one who has the gold…rules”) and started discounting the value down to around 50 cents on the dollar (i.e., $8,000). Some carriers were heard to settle it for as little as $2,000.

The next “reform” to vocational rehabilitation arrived in 2003. It essentially eliminated even the appearance of providing vocational rehabilitation with the institution of Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits–what is commonly referred to as a “Job Voucher.” It’s called this because the benefit is a nontransferable voucher for education-related retraining or skill enhancement (or both) at a state-approved or accredited school. All of this may sound good, but it has very little to do with getting a new job. Moreover, this benefit is only available to workers whose injuries occurred after January 1, 2004, who also did not return to work for the employer within 60 days after the Temporary Disability (TD) terminated, and whose employer did not offer a job which accommodated the worker’s limitations within 30 days of termination of TD benefits. Got all that?

Simply put, a Job Voucher would guarantee payment of a certain amount of money towards education and training of the Injured Worker–the amount being dependent upon the percentage of Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) he or she had. For instance, a PPD of 14% would entitle the Injured Worker to a job voucher which would pay up to $4,000 towards tuition and retraining costs (presuming the other conditions have been met). If the PPD was between 15% and 25%, the dollar amount of the job voucher would be $6,000. If it was between 26% and 49% it would be $8,000. If the PPD was between 50% and 99%, it would be $10,000.

Consider the plight of the injured worker who was injured before January 1, 2004 who had multiple surgeries and a protracted period of Temporary Disability and, yes, was paid TD benefits for all those years (TD benefits were limited to last only 2 years, starting with dates of injury on April 1, 2004 and later). So, does the worker get Vocational Rehabilitation because the date of injury was prior to January 1, 2004? No! The law awarding that benefit was repealed, effective January 1, 2009. Worse, the worker gets no Job Voucher either because his date of injury precedes the effective date for that benefit. Sweet, huh?

The Road Narrows Even Further
Effective January 1, 2013, if you are the injured worker and your date of injury was after January 1, 2004…and you have not returned to work for the same employer within 60 days after termination of your TD benefits…and your employer has not made you a job offer which accommodates your limitations within 30 days of the date of the termination of your TD benefits, you may now be entitled to a Job Voucher with a value of $6,000. And, it doesn’t matter what your level of PPD is. If you are 10% and otherwise qualify, it could be said that you’ve come out “ahead” (compared to the $4,000 job voucher you would have received before). But, if you are 60% disabled, you will get the same $4,000 voucher.

Use It Or Lose It
Another limitation imposed as of January 1, 2013: Injured Workers must use it within two (2) years from date it is issued or five (5) years from the date of injury, whichever is later. One more thing–you cannot settle the Job Voucher and simply take the money and invest it elsewhere (like groceries and rent) while you attend community college classes.

Perhaps this will help enable you to better chart your course.

NOTICE:  Making a false or fraudulent Workers Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in prison or a fine of up to $50,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

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