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California’s Return to Work Supplement Program

Workers’ compensation exists to provide emergency relief to employees injured on the job. The goal is to compensate for medical coverage and lost wages, but oftentimes injuries can prove so severe that they may permanently displace workers from their jobs. It is for these extreme circumstances that California offers a Return to Work supplemental program for injured employees. Finding new work or entering a new position within the same industry, trade, or company is challenging for any employee, but this program offers a solution to those in need while they learn a new skill.

Workers’ Compensation in California

Injuries occurring on the job are problematic for all parties involved, particularly due to the costs and damages accrued from the injury. Workers who experience injury in the workplace must inform their employers immediately or as soon as they learn of their injury and its connection to a workplace accident.

General workers’ compensation only covers lost wages and medical care – including through disability payments – but it does not pay for retraining or new skills in the event that an employee cannot continue their old work. This is the purpose of a supplemental job displacement benefit. These benefits are only available in the case of long-term disability and go toward the costs of training and skill enhancement.

Return to Work Supplement

The return to work supplement offers significant relief in the worst cases of income loss. Permanent disability means a permanent loss of income from that job, and oftentimes disability payments are not enough to make up for the loss of wages. This is why the return to work supplement exists – it offers temporary financial coverage while an employee trains to reenter the workforce in a new capacity.

The California Return to Work supplemental program is different than employer-operated return to work programs, which occupy a similar niche. Both allow an employee to reenter the workforce quickly, but they come from different providers and with different means.

California’s supplemental program is a one-time payment of $5,000 that workers can apply for directly with the state’s workers’ compensation bureau. Employees may only apply for the return to work supplement if they have already received the supplemental job displacement benefit. Employees only receive supplemental job displacement benefits in cases where employers do not offer their own alternative programs for modified work. The intent of this program is to pay for retraining costs, so employees may become gainfully employed – whether that is within the same company, or in a different position.

Applying for the return to work supplement requires a supplemental job displacement benefit voucher for the injury, along with an adjudication and claim number. The injury must have occurred on or after January 1, 2013. Filers can apply online – and the California workers’ compensation website has a complete process available. Workers’ compensation offices all have kiosks available for use on site, and agents are available in the building that can assist employees with the application process. 

Despite the fact that return to work supplements are paid out in a timely manner – with 90% of successful applicants receiving payment within three weeks – research from the Rand Corporation shows that only half of those eligible are applying for the program. Most employees who do not seek out the application lack legal representation and may not be aware the program exists. Receipt of a supplemental job displacement voucher does not always lead to an application for the return to work supplement, which often leads to eligible employees missing the opportunity for increased compensation to help them return to employment.

If you have been injured at work and need representation for your case, the Orange County workers’ compensation lawyers at Bentley & More are here to help. Our award-winning workers comp lawyers have years of experience securing compensation for our clients.