Although many may think of the workers’ compensation system as quite adversarial, like other civil law suits, workers’ compensation has some unique features which require that employer and employee work together. After an employee is injured on the job, he or she will visit a treating physician, who may then determine the worker can only return to work with particular physical restrictions and limitations. When a worker is determined to be permanently disabled, the employer is obligated to provide accommodations to the injured worker so he or she can return to work. Where returning to the same position is not possible, the employer will offer the injured worker another position that will pay at least 85% of the salary the injured worker was making in the position he or she was working at the time of injury. If the employer is unable to make such an offer or the employee refuses the job, then the employee may receive supplemental job displacement benefits (SJDB). These benefits are given in the form of providing a voucher to the injured worker. The voucher can then be used by the employee to pay for education, retraining, or skill enhancement at particular accredited schools. Recent case law from the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) discusses whether the employer and employee may agree that the employee should receive a SJDB voucher during a settlement.
In Beltran v. Structural Steel Fabricators, the worker Juan Pablo Beltran sustained cumulative trauma injury to his head and back due to heavy work over the course of a year while employed by Structural Steel Fabricators. After initially denying the claim because Structural Steel alleged Beltran did not submit his workers’ compensation claim until after he was fired from the job, the parties eventually entered into a settlement. The settlement included language that Beltran was not entitled to a SJDB voucher. The WCJ rejected the settlement, stating that the parties were not entitled to settle the issue of whether Beltran was entitled to the voucher. The WCAB disagreed. The WCAB held that when the parties have a good faith dispute as to whether a worker is eligible for a voucher, the parties may agree on eligibility and include that agreement in a settlement.
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