Category Archives: Return to Work

Vocational Recovery Services – New Rules Proposed

New rules proposed by WA Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) would add vocational recovery services as the first services provided by vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs) in most State Fund cases. This would replace the current early intervention services, with similar steps to be taken. The intent is to better align the rules with the state law that places a high priority on returning a worker to employment after an injury.

Vocational Recovery Services

In recent years, L&I has made significant changes intended to reduce process delays so that vocational providers can more effectively engage injured workers, employers, and medical providers before long-term disability sets in. Reported results include higher return-to-work rates and reduced costs for L&I.

For an injured worker, the effect of these changes is that a vocational counselor is assigned to their claim early in the process. VRC’s are tasked with a multi-step effort to try to return the injured worker to employment as soon as possible after an injury, either with the employer of injury, a past employer or a new one. The VRC may obtain work and education history from the worker as well as physical restrictions from the attending physician. Any proposed job offers are run by the physician for review and approval or modifications, if appropriate.

Often, once these initial steps are done, the VRC will remain assigned to the claim to monitor progress with treatment and continue with efforts towards returning the worker to some type of work, as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for us to see VRCs stay on a claim even when surgery is on the horizon.

Vocational Recovery Services – Review Proposed Changes

The proposed rules are available for review on L&I’s website for rule development.

The Proposed Rule Making notice, with explanations of the changes and the expected effect of those changes, can be found here. The full text of the existing rules along with proposed changes and additions can be found here.

Provide your input to L&I

Changes in vocational rules have the potential to impact the benefits received by an injured worker, both monetary and vocational. For this reason, I recommend that you review the proposed rule changes and provide your input to the Department of Labor and Industries during the public comment period, which closed on October 4th.

You may provide input in writing by email, mail, or fax through 6 p.m. on Oct. 4th. You may also participate in a public hearing at 10 a.m. on Oct. 2 at the Department of Labor and Industries in Tumwater. L&I will consider all input before preparing the final rules this fall.

Washington to Expand Programs to Help Injured or Ill Employees Return to Work

Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) is celebrating a $2.5 million federal grant to help up to 400 workers who develop a potential injury or illness remain at work, return to work or attain a new job.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) will fund a demonstration project (WA-RETAIN) focused on two specific populations: state employees at risk of filing long-term disability claims and people not eligible for workers’ compensation who are at risk of leaving the  workforce. Washington is one of eight states to receive this grant funding for the next 18 months.

Generally, the longer injured workers are out of work due to disability, the less likely they are to return to work at all. In fact, an employee who is out of work for six months has less than a 50 percent chance of returning to gainful employment. If lost time reaches one year, the chances of successfully returning to work drop to 10 percent.

The RETAIN Demonstration Projects are modeled after a program operating in Washington state for injured workers covered under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Program. The success of this effort in helping workers return to work sooner is one of several reasons why the state Department of Labor & Industries was able to propose a reduction in workers’ compensation premiums for 2019. 

WA-RETAIN will engage the Center of Occupational Health and Education Alliance of Western Washington as well as other state and local partners, including the Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) in King and Snohomish counties. Securing this Phase1 grant makes Washington eligible to compete for one of four grants of up to $19.75 million each to expand on the model created in the demonstration project.

“We want all Washington workers to have access to great employment opportunities and resources they need to be successful,” said ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine. “The WDCs of King and Snohomish counties have been highly successful in serving workers with disabilities and their employers to date and we look forward to working with them on this moving forward to amplify and grow their efforts.”

“We are honored to receive these funds to build a model that helps workers reattach to the workforce,” said Erin Monroe, CEO of Workforce Snohomish. “The longer workers stay out of the workforce, the less likely they are to return to work. Our goal is to help people on the pathway to economic prosperity.”

“With the staggering rate of one in 10 working age Americans having a substantial disability that impacts their opportunities to work, we’re thrilled and honored to continue to support our workforce on their pathways towards self-sufficiency,” said Dot Fallihee, interim CEO of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County. “Our WDC’s 47 WorkSource sites are proud to offer a depth of employment resources and opportunities for our residents.”

The WA-RETAIN project supports Gov. Jay Inslee’s goal of increasing the employment rate of working age people with disabilities in Washington and supplements efforts by the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment (GCDE). Toby Olson, Executive Secretary for the GCDE, will lead the project.

More information about the RETAIN grant is available at the US Dept. of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy site. 

Photo by anjan58 on / CC BY-NC-ND

DLI’s New Stay at Work Program

DLI Notice of Workshops on the Stay at Work Program

The following was released by DLI as a public notice:

The Department of Labor & Industries (DLI) has reimbursed more than 1,000 employers almost $5.5 million to help retain injured workers in light duty jobs, but many businesses around the state remain uncertain how the program can benefit them.  To help, L&I is holding workshops across the state to explain the new Stay at Work program, which provides up to half of a worker’s base wages for up to 66 days or $10,000 per claim if the employer places their injured workers in light-duty or transitional work. 

The free, 90-minute workshops provide an overview of the program, explain how to apply for the reimbursements, the requirements, benefits, and how participation can help reduce claim costs for participating businesses. To sign up for a workshop or learn more about the program, visit, or call 1-866-406-2482.

The current workshop schedule is:

  • Yakima – Sept. 11 from 9 -10:30 a.m. and 2 – 3:30 p.m., 15 W. Yakima Ave., Suite 100.
  • Everett – Sept. 13, from 10 ­- 11:30 a.m., 729 100th St. SE.
  • Kelso – Oct. 8, from 9 – 10:30 a.m. and 2 – 3:30 p.m., 711 Vine St.  
  • Everett – Nov. 8, from 10 – 11:30 a.m., 729 100th St. SE.
  • Spokane – Dec. 11, 9 – 10:30 a.m. and 2 – 3:30 p.m., 901 N. Monroe St., Suite 100.
  • Tukwila – Dec. 13 from 10 – 11:30 a.m., 12806 Gateway Drive South.

Ultimately, Stay at Work is projected to save $32 million annually by keeping workers on the job and reducing the chance of long-term disability. And getting injured workers out of their homes and back in the workplace has additional benefits – studies show that people off work longer than six months have only a 50 percent chance of ever returning to their job, while those who get back to work enjoy faster recovery times and improved lifelong health.


Trust your instincts – if things don’t feel right, they likely are not right.  Seek guidance prior to accepting or declining an offer of light-duty employment.


DLI Information for Injured Workers

The following is excerpted from the DLI website section on this topic:

The Department of Labor and Industries will reimburse your employer 50% of your base wages if they are able to find an eligible light-duty job for you. DLI will also cover expenses such as training and tools related to the light-duty job. If your employer offers you a job that your doctor approves and you choose not to accept it, you won’t be eligible to receive time-loss compensation. However, you aren’t required to accept any job that would exceed the restrictions set by your doctor.


DLI offers this cheery video – one of three – on the topic of the Stay at Work Program:



Our Perspective

As the DLI notice, above, indicates, it seems that many employers are not aware of the benefits available to them under this relatively new program, including significant incentives to offer accommodation to injured workers. 

We have seen both success stories and nightmares surrounding light-duty job offers from employers.  When applied appropriately and administered with a sense of caring, a light-duty job can be beneficial to an injured worker.  Returning to work can improve morale, maintain healthcare benefits for the worker and/or their families, and assist with a gradual return to full duties.  However, some offers of light-duty work are engineered to drive a worker to quit after accepting the job, which can remove the worker’s eligibility for time loss compensation.  Or, in other cases, the job may start out as light duty but the tasks requested may slide back towards regular duty levels, either intentionally or through habit, leading to increased symptoms or new injuries.

Trust your instincts – if things don’t feel right, they likely are not right.  Seek guidance prior to accepting or declining an offer of light-duty employment.