Tuesday, January 23, 2007, 11:30 PM - Vocational retrainingIn California workers' comp law, what is the difference between vocational rehab and a voc rehab voucher?
Both of these terms refer to what an injured worker may receive in California if the worker is unable to return to work and the employer claims there is no modified or alternate work available.
Some historical perspective is in order here. Until 1994, there was no dollar limit on the cost of a retraining program for workers unable to return to work. Some workers received lengthy and expensive retraining programs. Under Republican Governor Pete Wilson, voc rehab benefits were capped at $16,000. The $16,000 limit covers injuries up until 1/1/04. Expenses that count against the $16,000 cap include the fees of voc rehab counselors, tuition and placement costs, and monies for travel, books, clothing allowance, and so forth. Vocational training was usually recommended by voc rehab counselors and was subject to approval of a "plan" by the state. There was no guarantee that the "plan" would result in the worker actually getting a job. California law allows voc rehab benefits to be settled for up to $10,000, but does not require the insurer to settle at all or offer the full $10,000.
Schwarzenegger's 2004 reform eliminated the voc rehab benefit. In its place is a "supplemental job displacement benefit" known as a "voucher." This voucher is a piece of paper which can be redeemed for tuition costs at a state-accredited school. The amount of the voucher ranges from $0 to $10,000 depending on the level of permanent disability in the case. Because the new Schwarzenegger rating system is based on the very restrictive AMA (American Medical Association) system of impairment assessment, some workers who are unable to return to work due to physical restrictions may receive 0% disability ratings and be unable to receive a voucher. This will be the subject of litigation in many cases.
Keep in mind that injured workers have the right to demand reasonable accommodation and an "interactive process" to determine whether they can be accommodated or placed in a vacant position. Our office holds free monthly workshops for workers seeking reasonable accommodation.
Also note that the State of California has its own Department of Rehabilitation that is not connected to the workers comp system. That website is as follows: