What is Vocational Rehabilitation in California?

For Injuries Before 2004

Vocational rehabilitation is a benefit that helps injured workers return to work. You qualify for this benefit if you can no longer do your old job and your employer does not offer you another.

If you qualify, a plan to return you to the work force in new type of job more consistent with your physical limitation. You will usually be assisted in this process by a vocational rehabilitation counselor (QRR) and your attorney, if you are represented. You are limited to a maximum of $16,000 for all retraining costs, including tuition, books, living expenses (at a maximum of $246 per week for up to 52 weeks), counselor fees, etc. and you must complete your plan within 18 months from the time it starts.

Once your doctor or an evaluating physician determines that you are unable to return to your old job, your employer then has two options.

  1. They may offer you a modified or alternative position within the company that fits within your work restrictions. This job must be a permanent position (for at least one year) and must pay at least 85% of what you were earning at the time of your injury. If your employer offers you such a position and it is physically appropriate, you must accept the position. If you choose not to accept the position, it will be considered that you have voluntarily terminated your employment and you will not be entitled to any additional temporary disability benefits nor will you receive vocational rehabilitation benefits.
  2. If no modified or alternative position is available or offered, they must provide you with vocational rehabilitation.

My Doctor Says I Cannot Go Back to My Old Job, But The Insurance Carrier Will Not Provide Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits.

If the insurance carrier denies vocational rehabilitation, or if there is some other dispute over this issue, it may become necessary to request a hearing before the Rehabilitation Unit of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board to resolve the dispute.

What if The Job My Employer Offered Does Not Work Out?

You may still be entitled to rehabilitation services if the job does not last for at least 12 months or your if your disability prevents you from performing the tasks.

If you are physically unable to perform the tasks in the new job, you must immediately report this to your employer and then your primary treating physician. Again, in order to qualify for these benefits, you must have medical evidence to support your claim.

Do I Have to Accept Vocational Rehabilitation When it is Offered?

No, you do not have to immediately accept the offer of retraining. However, if it is offered, you must respond by informing your claims examiner, or your attorney if represented, that you are unable to participate in vocational rehabilitation at that time. Vocational rehabilitation benefits can be delayed up to 5 years from the date of your industrial injury.

However, even if you are not “permanent and stationary” but are able to participate in this process, you should begin as soon as possible. You are limited to only a maximum of $246 per week (less up to 15% for attorneys’ fees) for up to 52 weeks for living expenses (VRMA), which is generally much lower than the temporary disability rate you received. Also, with the limit of only $16,000 for all vocational rehabilitation expenses, the sooner you can start while still receiving temporary disability benefits, the more money you have available to you for the other expenses in your plan.

What Do I Do if VRMA Does Not Pay Enough for Me To Live On?

You may have the option of receiving Permanent Disability Supplement Payments while participating in Vocational Rehabilitation. If you are permanent and stationary and you have ratable permanent disability you can request that you receive payments from your estimated permanent disability to bring your weekly payment back to a maximum rate of the temporary disability rate you were prior receiving. All the supplement payments you receive will be deducted from the settlement of your permanent disability award once it has been determined.

What Type of Retraining Does Vocational Rehabilitation Provide Me With?

There are a great number of options available in this process and retraining can include such things as job placement assistance, schooling, self-employment possibilities, and many others. Your current education level, job experience and history, your likes and dislikes as well as your physical abilities will be taken into consideration when creating your plan.

Can I Get a University or College Degree Under Vocational Rehabilitation?

In a few cases obtaining such a degree is possible. If you are already well on your way to receiving such a degree there is the possibility of completing your education through the vocational rehabilitation plan. However, in most cases, obtaining such a degree is far too expensive to fall within the limited funds available to you. You should speak with your QRR regarding this process and if it is feasible for your to consider.

Can I Receive Cash Instead of Rehabilitation Services?

No, California law does not permit vocational rehabilitation benefits to be traded for cash.

For Injuries After 2004

If your injury causes permanent partial disability and you do not return to work for your employer within 60 days of the termination of temporary disability, you will be eligible for a supplemental job displacement benefit in the form of a nontransferable voucher for educational-related retraining or skill enhancement, or both, at a state approached or accredited school.

The amount of the voucher for the supplemental job displacement benefit will be as follows:

  • Up to $4,000 for a permanent partial disability award of less than 15%
  • Up to $6,000 for a permanent partial disability award between 15% and 25%
  • Up to $8,000 for a permanent partial disability award between 26% and 49%
  • Up to $10,000 for a permanent partial disability award between 50% and 99%

The voucher may be used for payment of tuition, fees, books, and other expenses required by the school for retraining or skill enhancement. No more than 10% of the voucher moneys may be used for vocational or return to work counseling. If you are offered a voucher, you must use it to begin your program within 5 years of the date of your injury or you may lose all rights to this benefit.

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