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Todd R. Tatro Attorney at Law
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Workers’ Compensation Benefits: Vocational Rehabilitation

In addressing the issue of Vocational Rehabilitation in Workers’ Compensation cases and the availability of such benefits, it should be kept in mind that not all industrial injuries are created equal.

Although minor injuries such as cuts, scratches, bruises may temporarily pose an inconvenience, they rarely slow us down or force us to change the nature of our day to day activities.  They also usually do not give rise to vocational rehabilitation issues.  However, other industrial injuries such as broken bones or certain types of strains and sprains can be considered more severe and may sideline us for a period of time while our bodies mend.

When dealing with these types of injuries, vocational rehabilitation may be an issue depending on how they affect an individual’s ability to work after a period of time for healing passes.

Then there are the work related injuries that are so catastrophic that they change everything. In these situations, normal activities, including those involved in daily living may be difficult or perhaps impossible to perform.   After experiencing this type of an industrial injury, your body may no longer move or perform at its previous level, and you may find that although the performance of some activities are still possible to accomplish, they have to be done more slowly and or with greater care and less frequency.  In situations that involve catastrophic industrial injuries, vocational rehabilitation in the form of Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits usually come into play, and are an issue that needs to be addressed.

One of the main things affected by the more profound or serious types of industrial injuries is the effect they have on your ability to work.  In these types of situations, due to the physical effects of your injuries and resulting limitations, you may be found to simply be unable to continue performing your usual and customary job duties.  Furthermore, because of the nature of your injuries and any resulting restrictions or limitations, your boss may not have the ability to find you a different position that you would be able to perform. Also, there are situations where even though you think that you can go back to work doing the same job after your injuries, your physician may see it differently. Instead they may be of the opinion that your injuries have forever foreclosed any chance of returning to your old job with or without modifications, or feel that if you did return, it would be at the risk of your suffering another injury that would only serve to further limit your physical abilities.

All in all, when your industrial injuries prevent you from returning to your pre-injury job or occupation, it is a terrible situation. Although you survived the work related accident that injured you and have made it through the treatment and physical and/or mental rehabilitation of your injuries, you now face an uncertain future when it comes to employment and earning a decent living.

Fortunately, the laws that govern workers’ compensation in the State of California provide a form of vocational rehabilitation benefits to employees who have been injured on the job and as a result of those injuries, can no longer perform their usual job duties.  These potential benefits are in the form of a in the form of a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB) that can be used for retraining.  When faced with this type of situation, and are dealing with the type of injuries that can create the need for occupational retraining, you should have an experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney to help guide you through the system and protect your interests.  Attorney Todd Tatro is a Certified Specialist in Workers Compensation Law through the State Bar of California, and as such, has an in depth understanding of these laws and of the potential SJDB voucher available to an injured worker.  Further, he and his professional staff have the experience and knowledge required to help his client’s obtain any Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits to which they might be entitled.  Again, these are benefits that often times  can help normalize his client’s lives and return them to some form of gainful employment.

Call Mr. Tatro today if you need help with your worker’s compensation case.  He can be reached at (559) 431-0123 or via the internet through his contact page.   

How Vocational Rehabilitation Works

In California, vocational rehabilitation benefits (also known as supplemental job displacement benefits) come in the form of a voucher. The voucher is used by an injured worker to pay for the costs of training to learn the skills that are necessary to get a new job, usually in a different line of work consistent with the individual’s injuries and related restrictions and limitations.  For example, the voucher can generally be used to pay for tuition, books, and career guidance.

Eligibility for Vocational Rehabilitation

To be eligible for vocational rehabilitation, an injured worker must first satisfy three requirements:

Requirement 1: The Worker Must have a Permanent Disability related to their industrial injury that produces work restrictions or limitations.

At some point, a doctor may decide that further treatment will do nothing to improve the condition of a worker who has been injured on the job.  From a medical standpoint, that worker’s physical condition will be considered by the doctor to have reached a plateau. When this happens, the doctor will make a formal prognosis that the worker’s condition is considered permanent and stationary (also referred to as P&S) or that it has reached Maximum Medical Improvement (also called MMI) and, as a result of the work related injuries, a full recovery will not happen and that he/she will have restrictions or limitations that will interfere with their ability to work.   If this opinion is accepted by all of the parties involved in the underlying workers’ compensation claim, a determination will be made that the worker involved has a permanent disability that affects their ability to work.

Requirement 2: The Worker Cannot Return to His or Her Job

When an injured worker’s doctor gives a prognosis that a worker has a permanent disability related to their injury, they may also opine that this disability will prevent the worker from returning to their job or from performing their usual and customary occupation. The doctor will then normally convey this opinion to the parties in a medical report and also to the claims administrator in charge of the case by use of a Return to Work and Voucher Report.

Requirement 3: The Employer Cannot Offer the Worker a Modified or Alternative Position

If a worker has a permanent disability related to their workplace injury that results in any work restrictions or limitations, and as a result is found unable to resume their old job duties, an employer may offer the worker either a modified or alternative position.  Any position in this regard would have to be consistent with the work restrictions or limitations given by the physician.

A modified position is essentially an accommodation. The employer understands that the injured worker can no longer perform some of their usual job duties. Therefore, the employer modifies the worker’s job duties, making the worker no longer responsible for the tasks they cannot perform based on the physician’s restrictions.  In short, the worker gets their old job back at usually at the same salary with the needed modifications.

On the other hand, an alternative position is also an accommodation. In this case, the employer understands that the injured worker can no longer perform all, or a substantial number, of their job duties. Therefore, the employer finds an entirely new position for the worker within the company, with job duties that the worker can perform. If this happens, the salary of the new position must be a minimum of 85% of the worker’s old salary and have a similar commute time. Additionally, the offer of an alternative position must be for at least 12 months of continuous work and be made within 60 days of the worker’s doctor making a P&S/MMI determination and finding of disability.

If an employer offers a worker a modified or alternative position within these parameters and the worker refuses the position, he or she would be ineligible for vocational rehabilitation/supplemental job displacement benefits.

Vocational Rehabilitation Amounts

If a worker’s disability is the result of a work related injury that occurred on or before December 31, 2012, any potential Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits (SJDB) voucher to which they might be entitled to would be fixed by the level of permanent disability awarded at the time the case is resolved.  For injuries that result in permanent disability of less than 15%, the total potential SJDB voucher would have a value of up to $4,000.00.  As to injuries that cause a level of permanent disability from 15% to 25%, the voucher would have a maximum value of up to $6,000.00.  If the injury results in a level of permanent disability between 26% to 49%, the potential SJDB voucher would be worth up to $8,000.00.  Finally, for an injury that results in a permanent disability between 50% to 99%, the potential SJDB voucher would be worth up to $10,000.00.

It is also important to keep in mind that any SJDB voucher to which the injured worker is eligible, must be used for educational related retraining and/or skill enhancement at a California state approved or accredited school.  The voucher can be used to pay tuition, fees, books or other related expenses required by the school for the retraining and/or the skill enhancement services provided.  Additionally, up to 10% of the voucher’s value can be used for return to work or vocational counseling services.   Also, it should be noted that vouchers expire in 2 years after issuance or 5 years from the date of injury, whichever is later.

However, for dates of injury on or after January 1, 2013, the maximum value of any potential SJDB voucher to which an injured worker would be entitled would be up to $6,000.00.  The aforementioned amount would be for all qualifying levels of permanent disability.  Further, the voucher cannot be used outside the State of California, but it does cover all the routine costs of attending an in-state program.  Also a maximum of $1,000.00 of the voucher can be used to purchase a computer to be used to facilitate retraining. These vouchers can also be used, with some limitations, to pay for things such as professional certification fees and tools, if applicable. Finally, these vouchers must be used within two years from the date it is issued or within five years of the date of injury, whichever is later.

Return-To-Work Supplement Program

In addition to the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit referenced above, the State of California has also set up a Return-to-Work Supplement Program (RTWSP) for dates of injury on or after January 1, 2013.  It is important to check on whether you might also be entitled to benefits from this Program.  The application for this one-time supplemental payment is available online at: http://www.dir.ca.gov/RTWSP/RTWSP.html).  Again, to qualify, an applicant must have a date of injury (DOI) on or after Jan. 1, 2013 and have received a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB) voucher for said injury.   The application for the Return-to-Work supplement benefit must be received by the RTWSP within one year from the date the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB) voucher was served on the applicant or one year from the effective date of the amended 8 CCR 17304 (March 20, 2017) for SJDB vouchers issued prior to December 1, 2015. You will need the following information to complete the application: 1) SJDB voucher or SJDB voucher proof of service (page 6) 2) WCAB Adjudication (ADJ) number and 3) Workers’ Compensation claim number.  Therefore, if you meet the criteria for these benefits and are interested in pursuing such, then it is recommend that you act immediately given there are strict time limits apply.

Bottom line, is that if you sustained work related injuries that are preventing you from returning to your old job, it is possible that the vocational rehabilitation benefits currently offered under California workers’ compensation law can help get you back on your feet financially. In this regard, Attorney Todd Tatro understands that you need to get back to work as soon as possible.

Let Mr. Tatro help you by utilizing his 30+ years of experience with workers’ compensation laws to get the potential vocational rehabilitation benefits to which you are entitled.  Contact Mr. Tatro at (559) 431-0123, or via the internet on his contact page.