Have you ever heard the term Preferred Worker as it relates to injured workers and L&I or self-insured workers’ compensation claims? The preferred worker program is a return to work incentive program offered by L&I that benefits both employers and injured workers.
Preferred Workers Program in L&I workers’ compensation cases
Pursuant to WAC 296-16-110, under this program, L&I may certify an injured worker who has permanent medical restrictions as a “preferred worker“. This certification enables an employer to receive financial incentives when they hire the injured worker for a medically-approved, long-term job. Moreover, an injured worker certified as a “preferred worker” can use that status to make themselves a more competitive hire.
Benefits for employers
Employers who create a safe, long-term, medically appropriate job for a preferred worker become eligible for significant benefits including:
1) Reimbursements including 50% of the base wages paid to the preferred worker, for up to 66 days or up to $10,000 within a consecutive 24-month period;
2) Up to $2500 for tools and equipment; and
3) Up to $400 for worker clothing;
In addition to these reimbursements, the employer may become eligible for an additional incentive payment of 10% of the worker’s wages or $10,000 (whichever is less) after 12 months of continuous employment of the preferred worker. On top, hiring a preferred worker also comes with premium incentives: L&I will pay or reimburse the cost of a new claim filed within the certification period with no penalty on the business.
Preferred Worker Program: Tips for injured workers
If you are an injured worker trying to return to the workforce, be sure to ask your vocational counselor whether you qualify for “preferred worker” certification. If you are certified, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) will provide you with a letter confirming your certification. You will also receive a brochure you can present to prospective employers to educate them on all the benefits available when they hire a preferred worker.
If you are an employer interested in learning more about the incentives for hiring preferred workers, the L&I website has lots of information. L&I resources include informational webinar, the documents required to apply for the incentives, and an “apply here” link to apply online through the Secure Access Washington portal.
Conclusions and takeaways
Under the right circumstances, the preferred worker program can be very beneficial for injured workers returning to work and for accommodating employers. However, one significant shortcoming of the preferred worker program is that certification is only granted to injured workers who have a state funded claim. Injured workers of self-insured employers are not currently eligible for preferred worker certification. In my opinion this is a grave injustice to self-insured injured workers and I am currently exploring avenues for correcting this inequity.