Group Worries California Labor Code Changes Could Impact Worker Rehabilitation

A recent revision to the California Labor Code that allows workers to take a cash settlment rather than opt for retraining and education could have a negative impact on the ability of injured workers to return to work.

A recent revision to the California Labor Code that allows workers to take a cash settlement rather than opt for retraining and education could have a negative impact on the ability of injured workers to return to work.

A revision to Labor Code section 4646, which is part of A.B. 749, a major workers'' compensation bill just signed by Gov. Gray Davis, allows injured workers who are represented by attorneys to opt for a cash settlement rather than return to work services.

Meant to be short-term financial relief, the revision could effectively deprive injured workers of the vocational counseling, training and job placement services they may need to return to the workforce, worries one organization involved in worker rehabilitation.

"While a cash settlement may provide injured workers with short-term debt relief, this does not help workers with limited English skills, limited education and few job skills. After paying bills, these injured workers may return to the only line of work they know, the same job in which they got injured, thus increasing the number of work injury claims," remarked Stewart Soto, president of the Organization of Bilingual Rehabilitation Associates (OBRA).

He added that injured workers lack the necessary skills to return to the labor force. When choosing a cash payment instead of vocational rehabilitation services, workers may have to rely on unemployment, Social Security and welfare in order provide for their families.

"I don''t think California taxpayers want to see that happen," he commented.

OBRA estimates that if half the injured workers currently eligible for vocational rehabilitation services in California - about 40,000 people - went on welfare, unemployment and social services, it would cost the state of California over $1 billion dollars in the next four years.

OBRA is currently working with Assemblyman Thomas Calderon and Senators Richard Polanco and Nell Soto to introduce clean-up legislation to insure that those workers most at risk from a trade for cash instead of their vocational rehabilitation services are protected.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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