Vocational Benefits: Option 1 versus Option 2
This article is part of our series about vocational benefits in workers’ compensation and L&I claims. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) approves a vocational retaining plan once the Plan Development phase is complete. Then, injured workers have the option to participate in the retraining plan (Option 1) or to opt out of it (Option 2).
Ideally, the injured worker selects an option and notifies L&I of their choice within 15 days. However, if the injured worker does not inform L&I of the decision, the selection defaults to Option 1. After that, L&I expects the injured worker to cooperate fully to complete the approved plan. Yet, the injured worker has until the end of the first school term to change their mind and choose Option 2.
The implications of choosing Option 1 or Option 2
If the injured worker selects Option 1 and remains cooperative with the retraining process, they will receive time-loss compensation benefits throughout the process. The time-loss will be paid up to full two years (if the approved retraining plan is that long). If the injured worker selects Option 2, they do not need to participate in the vocational retraining plan. Instead, the Department pays the injured worker the equivalent of 9 months of time-loss compensation benefits in installments. In addition, under Option 2, L&I will close the claim (with any PPD, if applicable) and will set aside a little over $17,000 for the injured worker. The injured worker can use these funds for retraining of their choosing at an accredited educational institution.
I often see vocational counselors discuss Option 2 during the plan development phase. Often, when the plan is not exciting or interesting to the injured worker, then vocational counselors present Option 2 as an ideal alternative. Personally, and in general, I am not a big fan of this option. In my opinion, Option 2 is good when a client has a solid and realistic plan to utilize the benefits under Option 2 to make themselves employable. However, if there is no plan, then Option 2 becomes a minor short-term solution that leaves the worker in a serious predicament when the money runs out.
In my practice, I challenge injured workers to think critically about whether to choose Option 2. I absolutely discourage injured workers from taking Option 2 during the vocational process and wait until L&I approves their development plan. It concerns me that many injured workers who feel retraining isn’t realistic, believe their only recourse is to select Option 2. It is important for injured workers to understand that they have a choice when selecting a vocational option. And that Option 2 is a decision to opt out of a realistic retraining plan.
If retraining is not realistic, the injured workers and their attorney must bring those reasons to the attention of the Department of Labor and Industries. Clients should only choose Option 2 when it is the most likely path to restore an injured worker’s quality of life – by creating a way for them to return to employment.
More resources to learn about vocational services
To learn more about vocational services, you can continue to read the following articles: