WA Preferred Worker Program – New Incentives to Assist Return to Work

Washington’s Preferred Worker Program provides an opportunity for employers to save money when hiring experienced, highly-qualified workers. Although there is no direct monetary benefit to the injured worker, having Preferred Worker status may assist the injured worker seeking to be hired due to the benefits available to the employer. The new preferred worker benefits to encourage the employment of injured workers with a permanent disability became effective January 1, 2016.

A worker may be certified as a “preferred worker,” in the sole discretion of the supervisor or supervisor’s designee, if he or she has an open state fund insured claim for an industrial injury or occupational disease that results in a permanent disability that may be a substantial obstacle to employment.

Permanent disability is defined as

  • a physical or mental condition, caused by the industrial injury or occupational disease which is fixed and stable, and from which, within the limits of medical probability, further recovery is not expected; and
  • the attending provider or other appropriate specialist within the medical provider network has documented work restrictions that prevent the worker from returning to the job of injury; and
  • the work restrictions are supported by medical findings appropriate to the worker’s physical or mental condition.

“Substantial obstacle to employment” means 1 or more of the following limitations apply: 

  • The worker is unable to perform at least 1 of the essential functions of the job of injury. 
  • L&I finds the worker eligible for vocational retraining.
  • The worker is permanently restricted to a lower category of work, for example, a worker previously able to perform heavy work is permanently restricted to sedentary or light work.

An employer must employ the certified preferred worker in a job that

  • will continue to be available into the foreseeable future, and
  • is confirmed as consistent with the worker’s permanent work restrictions by
    • the health care provider, and
    • the credentialed vocational rehabilitation professional who meets the qualifications in Chapter 296-19A-210 WAC.

The final determination will be made by L&I’s credentialed vocational rehabilitation professional.

The employer will not be eligible for preferred worker incentives if the offered job is:

  • The job of injury with minor or no modifications.
  • Work that is beyond the worker’s medical restrictions.
  • Work that requires training beyond the usual and customary training provided by the employer to similar employees.
  • On-the-job training.

In no case will the employer receive any preferred worker benefits until all required documentation is received by L&I. The employer must submit to L&I:

  • A copy of the completed job analysis or L&I’s job description form, approved by the worker’s health care provider, and
  • The job offer, signed by the worker, and
  • L&I’s Preferred Worker Request form, available on L&I’s website, completed and signed by the employer.

After the offered job is confirmed as approved by L&I’s credentialed vocational rehabilitation professional, preferred worker benefits can be granted. The benefit start date will be no earlier than the first work day after L&I receives the employer’s completed documentation.

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