Sunday, September 9, 2007, 10:22 PM - Vocational retrainingAB 1636 passed the California Senate on September 7 and appears headed toward the Governor. The bill would expedite the provision of a retraining voucher to injured workers who have been determined unable to return to work.
If the worker does not return to work within 60 days of being found permanent and stationary, a retraining voucher would be due within 74 days after the date the worker was determined permanent and stationary.
You can see a pdf version of the bill by clicking here:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bil ... en_v97.pdf
This bill would apply only to injuries after 1/1/08, thus offering no assistance to workers with current pending claims.
California's injured workers lost their rights to a full vocational retraining program in 2004. Prior to reforms in the early 1990s there was no set dollar limit on vocational retraining programs. Reforms under Governor Pete Wilson provided a $16,000 cap on vocational retraining benefits (including the weekly voc rehab maintenance allowance payable during a retraining program). And under Governor Schwarzenegger, injured workers lost their rights to a retraining program. Instead, the law now provides a "job displacement voucher"
worth between $4,000 to $10,000 for workers unable to return to work.
AB 1636 would speed up the process of getting a voucher into the hands of workers. The idea is that injured workers need to use the voucher as soon as possible to take classes at state accredited schools. Although better than nothing, in practice, the voucher usually is "too little, too late."
Many workers who need to retool their careers will require much more training than the vouchers will finance. And, unlike the old retraining benefit, the voucher does not address living expenses while the worker takes classes. Unfortunately, the rent and grocery bills continue.
But hats are off to Voters Injured at Work www.viaw.org, which has worked hard to push this bill. The bill never made it onto the California Chamber of Commerce job killer list. Let's hope this is a bill that runs the remaining gauntlet past the Governor's veto pen.
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: