Did you know Washington State has a financial incentive program for employers called the Preferred Worker Program? The program, offered by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), is designed to keep injured workers gainfully employed while offering employers monetary benefits for providing medically-approved jobs.
How Does the Preferred Worker Program Work?
When a worker is permanently restricted from performing their normal job duties because of a workplace injury or illness, they may be eligible to be certified as a Preferred Worker. Once approved, any organization that employs the worker, regardless of if they are the employer where the worker was initially injured, can apply for the program benefits.
What Are the Benefits of the Program?
The Preferred Worker Program benefits workers and employers alike. Although workers can become limited in their ability to perform some tasks due to injury or illness, they still retain the skills and knowledge needed for the job. When employers employ a Preferred Worker, they either retain or add a valuable employee to their workforce. This can help improve productivity and workplace morale because the worker can solve an immediate production need, and it shows the person they are a valued part of the team. Getting back to work can also aid in the individual’s recovery and prevent them from having to navigate unemployment.
In addition to fulfilling staffing needs and potentially reducing training costs from keeping an already trained employee working, employers can take advantage of the program’s financial benefits, including:
- Claim protection for three years. Once the worker is granted Preferred Worker status, L&I will provide workers’ compensation claim protection against additional claims for that worker for up to 36 months. Subsequently, any claims filed by this worker during this period will be covered by L&I and have no impact on workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
- Reduced insurance premiums. When reporting hours and risk classes for quarterly workers’ compensation insurance premium charges, state-fund employers will report Preferred Worker hours in risk class 7204. This unique risk class exempts the employer from paying the Accident Fund and Medical Aid rates for the Preferred Worker during the 3-year certification period, lowering the employer’s insurance premiums. A risk class is a method for setting insurance rates for different occupations based on risk. Employers can estimate their organization’s quarterly premium savings using L&I’s Preferred Worker Calculator.
- Stay-at-Work wage and expense reimbursement. L&I will reimburse the employer 50% of the Preferred Worker’s base wages for up to 66 working days ($10,000 max). The employer is also eligible for expense reimbursement for items the worker needs for the job, including up to $2500 for tools and equipment and up to $400 for clothing, within a consecutive 24 months.
- Continuous employment incentive. Furthermore, L&I will reimburse the employer for $10,000 or 10% of the worker’s wages (whichever is less) for the first 12 months of working the approved job continuously. This is a monetary bonus for keeping the worker employed.
What Are the Steps for Applying for Benefits?
Before an employer can take advantage of the financial perks of the program, the injured or ill worker must be certified as a Preferred Worker by L&I. To be certified, the worker or someone directly involved with the claim must request program certification after the worker’s attending healthcare provider assigns the worker permanent restrictions, meaning they can no longer perform their original job duties.
Once the worker is certified, the employer should follow these steps:
- Hire the preferred worker if they are not already employed at the organization.
- Create a job description that meets the worker’s permanent restrictions and documents the physical requirements of the job. Send this job description to the worker’s attending healthcare provider for approval.
- Create a job offer letter once the healthcare provider has approved the job. The formal permanent job offer letter must indicate that the job will be available in the near future and be presented to the worker for acknowledgment and signature.
- Request L&I’s approval for the job after the employee has accepted the job offer. Employers must complete the two-part Preferred Worker Form by submitting parts A and B of the application with supporting documents. Once the job is approved for the program, L&I will notify the employer in writing.
- Apply for benefits after receiving job approval from L&I.
Who Qualifies for the Preferred Worker Program?
To be eligible for the Preferred Worker Program, an individual must:
- Have an open L&I claim due to a workplace injury or illness;
- Experience a permanent loss of physical or mental function because of their injury or illness, which may be a substantial barrier to employment. Further medical improvement is not expected; and
- Based on medical findings, be permanently restricted by their healthcare provider from returning to the job of injury.
To qualify for Preferred Worker incentives, employers covered by Washington’s state-fund workers’ compensation insurance program must have their L&I account in good standing, with premium billings current.
Self-insured employers can receive benefits by hiring a Preferred Worker who has been previously certified under a state-fund claim and following the abovementioned application steps. These employers can ask L&I to reimburse the claim costs when the claim is ready for closure. However, it should be noted that an employee cannot be certified as a Preferred Worker if they are injured or become ill during employment for the self-insured organization.
How do Employers Advertise They Hire Preferred Workers or Know Who is a Preferred Worker?
Employers can advertise their organization as a Preferred Worker-friendly workplace and order and display Preferred Worker decals at their business location. Employers can also advertise with WorkSource that they are a Preferred Worker employer.
Although employers are not allowed to ask whether the person has any worker compensation claims, they can ask if the individual is currently certified as a Preferred Worker. It is up to the individual to disclose their Preferred Worker status to the employer.
Archbright Can Help!
Hiring a Preferred Worker can help employers’ bottom line by retaining or adding a valuable employee, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and receiving financial incentives. Eligible Archbright members have access to a team of workers’ compensation experts who can assist with workers’ compensation claims management and Preferred Worker benefits.
Employers interested in learning more about these services can contact info@Archbright.com.