On October 22, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) adopted rule changes relating to vocational services. The new rules will go into effect on January 1, 2020. The new rule language can be found on the L&I website.
Priority of returning injured workers to work
Many of the changes are not substantial. However, there are a couple of very interesting additions. For example, for the less-exciting updates, L&I has replaced the term “early intervention” with “vocational recovery”. From my reading of the new rules, “vocational recovery” is almost identical to “early intervention”. Vocational recovery should help injured workers return to work, continue to work, or become gainfully employed.
Much like early intervention, the vocational recovery priorities are to:
1. Return the injured worker to their job of injury with their employer of injury;
2. Modify the job of injury and return the worker to work with the same employer;
3. Find a new existing job and position with the employer of injury;
4. Modify an open position or job with the same employer (including transitional return to work);
5. Return the injured worker to a modified version of his or her job of injury, but with a new employer;
6. Have the injured worker engage in a new job with a new employer or self-employment based upon transferable skills; and
7. Return the injured worker to a modified new job with a new employer.
New rules regarding vocational services in your workers’ compensation claim
Some new regulations that are of greater interest were created as well. Specifically, WAC 296-19A-262 (which is an addition to the rules in WAC 296-19A) outlines conduct, behavior, or ethical violations by a vocational provider, intern or firm that may result in corrective action or sanctions. Here, examples of behavior that may be subject to sanction include conflicts of interest, misrepresentations, and abusing the relationship between the vocational provider and the injured worker.
Sanction penalties could be as minimal as a reprimand or as severe as revocation of the ability to provide vocational services within the workers’ compensation setting. As is the case when any new law or regulation is enacted, I anticipate it will take some time before we begin to see and understand the full impact these changes will have on claim administration.