SB 863 Changes the Supplemental Job Displacement Voucher Benefit
By Jill A. Singer, Esq.
Associate, Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP
After an injured worker’s medical condition has stabilized, a doctor must determine if the injured worker requires any work restrictions due to the injury(ies). Thereafter, the employer is required to consider any work restrictions in determining if the injured worker can return to work. In some cases, an injured worker is unable to return to work for his or her employer. This is often not a viable option, and leads to this common question: Do Workers’ Compensation laws allow for any type of “job retraining” assistance? The answer is yes.
An injured worker may be entitled to a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB), commonly referred to as the “voucher.” A voucher is a limited benefit that allows an injured worker to obtain assistance in returning to the workforce after an injury if one of the following applies:
- The injured worker is unable to return to work at either the usual and customary position he or she performed at the time of the injury, or
- The injured worker is unable to return to work at either a modified or alternative position.
Although this benefit was meant to help injured workers return to the workforce in some meaningful way, the law that determines who, when, and the value of the voucher can be complicated. Recently enacted Senate Bill (SB) 863, the 2012 Workers’ Compensation reform bill, was meant to simplify this process; however, it is still complicated.
Per SB 863, for injuries on or after January 1, 2013, an injured worker may be entitled to a voucher valued at $6,000. In order to determine if there is entitlement to a voucher, first either a treating physician, an agreed medical evaluator or a qualified medical evaluator must provide a report to the claims administrator indicating that all conditions for which compensation is claimed have stabilized and the injury has caused permanent partial disability. Next, if within 60 days of the claims administrator’s receipt of such a report, if the employer makes an offer of regular or alternative modified work lasting 12 months, which pays at least 85 percent of the pre-injury wage, and provides this offer in writing (a specific state form must be used for this purpose), there would be no entitlement to the voucher. If such a qualified offer is not made, the voucher is due to the injured worker.
This means, ideally, within two months of an injured worker’s condition becoming stable, he or she could begin training for a new career. This voucher can be used at public schools or with a provider on the state’s Eligible Training Provider list, which can be found at www.ca-etpl.com. The voucher can be used for education-related retraining or skill enhancement, or both. The voucher can also be applied to expenses, such as tuition, books, licensing fees, vocational counseling, tools required by training or educational programs, or for the purchase of a computer (up to $1,000).
For dates of injury on or after January 1, 2013, the voucher must be used within two years after the date of issuance or five years after the date of injury, whichever is later. If the voucher is not used within the allowable timeframe, the benefit is lost forever. Further, this voucher cannot be exchanged or settled for cash. Finally, the new law states that if the worker sustains an injury while utilizing the voucher, the employer is not responsible for providing any medical care or monies related to such an injury.
The law concerning vouchers for injured workers with dates of injury occurring on or after January 1, 2004, and before January 1, 2013, was also changed by SB 863 to limit the use of the voucher to two years after the date of issuance or within five years after the date of injury, whichever is later, only if the voucher was issued after January 1, 2013. There is no time limit to use a voucher if it was issued before January 1, 2013. Also, for injuries before January 1, 2013, there is no restriction on settling the voucher as part of a Workers’ Compensation settlement for cash.
Injured workers with dates of injury occurring on or after January 1, 2004, and before January 1, 2013 are still entitled to the voucher if they do not return to work for the employer within 30 days of termination of the temporary disability benefit. Note, for these dates of injury the value of the voucher is based on the percentage of permanent disability, which is only known after a case settles. So there can be a long gap between being eligible for the voucher and actually receiving it. The value of the voucher for these dates of injury ranges from $4,000 to $10,000, depending on the percentage of permanent disability.
If you have any questions navigating the Workers’ Compensation laws regarding an entitlement to a voucher, it is important to consult a skilled attorney to be sure that you maximize the use of this benefit and that it is not lost forever. The Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK) are experienced and knowledgeable about all aspects of Workers’ Compensation laws, and remain active on the legislative front so that they can best advise their clients about the ever-changing laws. If you would like to speak with a GEK attorney about your legal options, please call 213-739-7000 or click here.