What If I Can’t Ever Go Back To Work?
If your work injury was serious and disabling, your doctor may say that you are permanently precluded from the type of work you were doing when you were injured. Despite receiving the best treatment available, sometimes the permanent disability is such that a job change or new career path will be necessary to avoid further injury. Your employer may make you an offer of return to a new job or offer to modify your job to fit your new restrictions (but must make the offer in writing within 30 days of the termination of temporary disability benefits). Sometimes the employer is unable to make such an offer. If this should happen, your workers’ compensation attorney can be of assistance in obtaining some benefits for you that go beyond the award of permanent disability payments.
Under California law, for dates of injury on or after 1/1/2013 and based on the supporting opinions of your doctor, your attorney can assist you in obtaining a supplemental job displacement benefit or “voucher” worth up to $6,000. You can think of this voucher like a coupon that must be used at a certified school to learn a new trade or profession. This benefit can be applied in part for books, tools and the assistance of a vocational counsellor to help you find your new job. It must be used within two years. Your attorney should monitor your medical reports and make sure the doctor comments on your restrictions and how they may affect your ability to do your job. If it appears you may qualify for the voucher, your attorney should work with a vocational counsellor who will assist you in applying for, and using, the voucher.
Obtaining the voucher will also qualify you to apply for, and receive, an additional $5,000 cash benefit (return to work supplement) that comes from a special fund that is available for people who have been permanently precluded from returning to their usual and customary work due to injury. Application for this payment (which does not come from the insurance company) must be made within one year of receiving the voucher and it is made directly to the Department of Industrial Relations. Application is made electronically on the DIR website. Your vocational counsellor will be able to assist with the application process.
We hear stories and see statistics suggesting that the vouchers often go unissued or, if issued, are never used to obtain the additional $5,000 payment. We often find that, despite the law and potential exposure to penalties, some adjusters never issue the voucher information without our active intervention. We think it is beyond explanation that these benefits should be left on the table. Permanent inability to return to your usual and customary work is a serious and life-altering situation, but it need not be the end of the world. With the assistance of an attorney who is a certified specialist in workers’ compensation and a competent vocational counsellor, help is available to make career transition as smooth as possible and to obtain these important benefits.