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