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, the work injury claimant has the option to participate in the retraining plan (Option 1) or opt out (Option 2). However, it’s not that simple. There are other ways to continue with vocational services.
Option 1 versus Option 2 – retraining and vocational benefits
L&I approves the retraining plan and presents it to the work injury claimant. Ideally, the worker selects an option and notifies L&I of their choice within 15 days. After that, if the workplace injury claimant does not inform L&I, then their selection defaults to Option 1. From there, L&I expects the worker to cooperate fully to complete the retraining plan. Yet, the work injury claimant has until the end of the first school term to change their mind. In fact, that’s the last chance you have to transition to Option 2.
Should I choose Option 1 or Option 2 in my L&I claim?
Many workers select Option 1 and remain cooperative with the retraining process. With that, they receive time-loss compensation benefits throughout their entire retraining. L&I pays the time-loss payments for up to two full years. That’s assuming that the retraining plan takes that long. Some plans might be shorter. However, if the work injury claimant selects Option 2, then they don’t need to participate in the vocational retraining plan. Instead, L&I pays the worker the equivalent of 9 months of time-loss compensation benefits in installments. In addition, under Option 2, L&I will close the claim and set aside a little over $17,000 for the worker. The work injury claimant can use these funds to retrain at an accredited educational institution of their choice. Furthermore, when the L&I claim closes, the worker will receive a PPD award (when applicable).
I often see vocational counselors discuss Option 2 during the plan development phase. Often, when the plan is not exciting or interesting to the worker, then vocational counselors push Option 2 as an ideal alternative. Personally, I am not a fan of this option. In my opinion, Option 2 is only good when my client has a solid and realistic plan to use the money from L&I to make themselves employable. However, if there’s no real plan, then Option 2 becomes a short-term solution. Shortly after, the funds run out and the worker encounters a serious predicament.
Retraining Option 1 or Option 2 – What if I’m not sure?
In my law firm practice, I challenge work injury claimants to think critically before they choose Option 2. In fact, I absolutely discourage workplace injury clients from taking Option 2 during the vocational process. It’s much better to wait until L&I is done with the plan development, after they approve the plan. It concerns me that many workers feel that retraining isn’t realistic. Moreover, they believe their only recourse is to select Option 2. That’s simply not true.
It is important for work injury claimants to understand that they have a choice. Simply put, Option 2 is a decision to opt out of a realistic retraining plan. If L&I proposes an unrealistic plan, then the worker needs to talk to their L&I attorney. Together, the worker and their workers’ compensation attorney must compile a list of reason to explain that the plan is unrealistic. Then, they submit the list and bring the issues to the attention of L&I. Clients should only choose Option 2 when it’s the best path to restore their quality of life. In other words, when it’s the most likely way for them to return to employment.
More resources to learn about vocational services
To learn more about vocational services, please refer to the following articles: