If you can’t return to your former California job because a work-related injury or illness left you with permanent limitations—but you can do some work—you may be eligible to receive supplemental benefits intended to help you find new work, in addition to the other workers’ comp benefits available in California. Supplemental job displacement benefits (formerly called “vocational rehabilitation retraining”) come in the form of a voucher and can be used to pay for the costs of school or training in order to gain the skills you need to enter a new line of work.
You will be entitled to supplemental job displacement benefits if:
Once your doctor has found that your medical condition is permanent and stationary, the physician will evaluate your condition, decide whether you have a permanent disability, and if so, how that disability will affect your ability to do your job. The doctor will write up a report that spells out tasks that you can’t do, known as “work restrictions.” (For more information on how the extent of disability is determined, see our article on permanent disability benefits in California.)
If you can’t return to the position you held before your injury (“regular work”), your employer may offer you “modified work,” meaning that the duties in your previous job will be adjusted to accommodate your work restrictions, or a different job that you’re able to do (known as “alternative work”). Either way, the modified or alternative work must:
To illustrate the difference between modified and alternative work, say you have permanent disability as a result of a repetitive stress injury, and your doctor says that you can only use a keyboard for 30 minutes at a time. If using a computer is a relatively small part of your job, your employer may be able to reassign those tasks to someone else and give you different things to do. But if that isn’t feasible, your employer may offer you a different position that requires only minimal keyboarding.
If your employer doesn’t offer you modified or alternative work within 60 days after receiving the doctor’s report, you’ll be eligible for the supplemental job displacement benefits. (However, you won’t be eligible if you turn down an offer from your employer, as long as it meets the legal requirements for modified or alternative work.)
The insurance company’s claims administrator should send you the job displacement voucher within 20 days after the end of that 60-day period.
The voucher is worth up to $6,000 to pay the following expenses for retraining, building skills, and getting started in a new occupation:
If you’ve paid the eligible expenses, you must submit receipts to the claims administrator before the voucher expires—two years after it was issued or five years after the injury, whichever is later. (However, you don’t need to provide itemized receipts for miscellaneous educational expenses, as long as you’ve submitted a request on the appropriate form.) Schools or counselors may receive direct payment from the claims administrator if you present the voucher to them. The claims administrator should reimburse you or make the direct payments within 45 days after receiving the completed voucher form and documentation.
You can’t redeem the voucher as part of a settlement of your California workers’ comp case.
California has another program that provides an additional payment for injured employees who’ve received a supplemental job displacement voucher and whose permanent disability benefits are particularly low in comparison to the amount of earnings they lost as a result of their injuries. The one-time payment is set at $5,000, although the state may adjust that amount. You can apply for the return-to-work supplement online. The deadline for applying is generally one year after you received the displacement voucher.