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