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The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) has posted proposed changes to the California Code of Regulations to implement the Return-to-Work Supplement Program, one of the workers’ compensation reforms mandated by SB 863. This program is intended to provide supplemental payments to workers whose permanent disability benefits are disproportionately low in comparison to their earnings loss. Public hearings on the proposed regulations have been scheduled on December 8, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1515 Clay Street in Oakland and on December 9, 2014 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 320 West 4th Street, Suite 500 in Los Angeles. Members of the public may also submit written comment on the regulations until 5 p.m. on December 9, 2014. The notice, initial statement of reasons, and text of the proposed regulations can be found on the DIR website.

Under the proposed regulation, to be eligible for the benefit, an individual must have a work related injury that results in an inability to return to the work they were doing at the time of the injury. The regulation further requires that an individual who receives the Return-to-Work Supplement may not receive a second Return-to-Work Supplement unless that individual returns to the work force and suffers an additional injury that prevents that individual from continuing in that job. The Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher triggers the application process for the Return-to-Work Supplement Program.

An individual who receives the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit under Labor Code section 4658.7 because that individual cannot return to the job they were performing when they were injured receives a voucher evidencing the promise to make payments under section 4658.7. That voucher is on a form mandated by 8 C.C.R. § 10133.32. Section 25104 of the proposed regulations requires that the voucher include a notice that the individual may be eligible for the Return-to-Work Supplement and is intended to advise those individuals who may wish to apply for the Return-to-Work Supplement about the program and how to get additional information. The section also provides that the Director will arrange for publication of this notice targeted at those who have already received a voucher. Claim adjusters will have to use the new voucher 30 days after the regulations become effective.

An application for the Return-to-Work Supplement must be received by the Return-to-Work Supplement Program within one year from the date the Voucher was served on the individual or within one year from the effective date of these regulations, whichever is later. The application shall be made on the electronic form on the Department of Industrial Relations web site and shall include a declaration under penalty of perjury that the information provided is true and correct. Section.25l08 establishes a time frame of 60 days for reviewing applications and for making a decision on an application. It also provides for the method of notifying applicants of the decision.

The Return-to-Work Supplement Program will provide a supplement of $5,000.00 to each eligible individual who submits a complete application by the deadline. The payment will be made within 25 days of the date the decision of the Director on the application and will be paid in one lump sum. Payment shall be made directly to the individual and is not assignable before payment. The amount of this supplement may be adjusted by the Director from time to time based on further studies conducted by the Director in accordance with Labor Code section 139.48 and or based on consideration of the number of anticipated recipients.

Labor Code section 13 9.48 requires that appeals of decisions concerning the Return-to-Work Supplement be handled at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board trial level. Section 25110 establishes a time frame for such appeals and allows the Return-to-Work Supplement Program to correct errors or otherwise modify decisions.