The concept is simple. If an employee gets hurt at work and can’t continue to work their regular job for that employer due to a work injury, the employee can get re-trained to do another job with another employer through the “$5,000/$6,000 retraining voucher.”
The basic benefits are paid out as follows. $5,000 from the State of California as a “Return to Work Supplement.” You can apply for this benefit online at www.dir.ca.gov/RTWSP/RTWSPApplication.html. Or you can call 510-286-0787. You’ll need your case number and your claim number. This benefit expires one year after the voucher is issued.
You also get $6,000 from the insurer. The $6,000 is broken down into $1000 for a laptop, $500 for class materials and $4,500 for classes. The classes must be taken from either a public school in California or be on the State’s training provider list maintained on the Employment Development Department website at www.edd.ca.gov/jobs_and_training/Eligible_Training_Provider_List.htm.
The employer is required to provide applicant with a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits (“SJDB”) voucher if it fails to make a bona fide offer of regular, modified, or alternative work within 60 days of applicant’s permanent and stationary date. The offer of modified or alternative work means work that pays at least 85% of the employee’s previous wages.
This right to a voucher expires after two years from the time the voucher is issued. If the employee uses a vocational counselor, then up to $600 of the voucher can be used to pay that counselor. The employee can no longer choose to take cash in lieu of the voucher benefit. The program generally seems to work except for a few issues I’ve encountered which I’ll discuss.
The total benefit is $11,000 and there isn’t any more so you should budget accordingly. Also, I’ve had defense counsel tell me that if an employee qualifies for the voucher, then instead of closing a file, the adjuster has to keep it open for two years. If the adjuster can get out of the obligation, then they will. I haven’t gotten much push back from defense about the vouchers, particularly since the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) judges seem happy to rule in applicant’s favor on voucher issues.
There are two recent panel cases that suggest that any doubt as to eligibility will be resolved in favor of the injured employee. (Remember that panel decisions are not binding but can be persuasive for trial judges.)
In the first case, Marisa Singerman v. Nike, Inc., the workers’ compensation Judge had ruled that the applicant wasn’t eligible for the voucher on the theory that the case was “settled.” The WCAB found that while other issues were settled, the voucher was not, and to stop discovery at this point would end Applicant’s ability to get the voucher. The case was then returned to trial for further development of the record regarding applicant’s entitlement to the voucher. The WCAB found that prohibiting the employee from engaging in discovery to prove entitlement to the SJDB voucher would end her right to this benefit.
I particularly like this case as it’s not uncommon for a case to settle and the issue on voucher eligibility to be unresolved. This WCAB ruling allows discovery to go forward on the issue of the voucher.
In the other case, Zenaida Garcia v. Riverside Magnolia Corp., the WCAB held that applicant established entitlement to the voucher based on a treating physician’s Return-to-Work & Voucher Report. WCAB found that applicant was not required to obtain a separate permanent and stationary report. Since applicant settled her claim, to determine that a separate permanent and stationary report was required would deny applicant the voucher to which she would otherwise be entitled.
From the perspective of Applicant counsel, I’m happy to have the voucher program in place. First, it offers some more cash and a “free” laptop to the employee. Second, it encourages the employee to get the re-training they need to get back into the work force.