The State Industrial Commission has submitted a bill to the Legislature calling for early identification and evaluation of "disabled injured workers" in an effort to get them back to work as quickly as possible. However, the bill doesn't provide mandatory rehabilitation that labor unions and injured-worker groups wanted.
Commission Chairman Stephen M. Hadley said the bill will be sponsored by Sen. Richard B. Tempest, R-Murray, and was filed just in time to beat the filing deadline.The bill defines "disabled injured worker" as a person who has an industrial injury or occupational disease for which medical and wage benefits will be paid by law and because of the injury the worker is unable to return to work in the usual occupation.
Proponents of mandatory rehabilitation for injured workers have accused the commission, the Utah Manufacturer's Association and insurance companies providing workmen's compensation insurance to employers of dragging their feet with the hope the issue of mandatory rehabilitation will go away for another year.
Last week, the Workers Compensation Advisory Council, in a close vote, favored HB9 submitted by Rep. Janet Rose, D-Salt Lake, which calls for 26 weeks of mandatory rehabilitation with the commission having an option to order an additional 26 weeks if necessary.
Those figures were reduced from the original proposal of a maximum of 108 weeks of mandatory rehabilitation.
But, in the commission's 38th draft of a bill on this issue, the mandatory provisions were left out, apparently because no one provided proof that rehabilitation is cost effective. As a result, the commission chose not to place an additional monetary burden on business without justification.
In last week's meeting, a UMA official said the voluntary rehabilitation system is working.
The commission's bill calls for appointment of a reemployment coordinator who will identify all rehabilitation providers and gather information from employers, insurance carriers, employers and rehabilitation providers to determine if rehabilitation is cost effective.
When it appears an injured worker is or will be a "disabled injured worker," or when the period of the injured workers' temporary total disability compensation period exceeds 90 days, the employer or the worker's compensation insurance carrier will file within 30 days a report assessing the injured worker's needs for re-employment.
Once an injured worker has been identified as a "disabled injured worker," the bill provides that within 10 days after the initial report is filed, the employer or the insurance carrier will refer the person to the Utah Office of Rehabilitation or a private rehabilitation service to provide an evaluation, develop a rehabilitation plan and possibly provide vocational rehabilitation for the injured worker.
The intent of the bill is to get injured workers back into the work force quickly, preferably in the same job with the same employer. Other priorities would be to put the worker in a modified job with the same employer; the same job with a new employer; a modified job with a new employer; a new job with a new employer; and retraining in a new occupation.
If passed, the bill will become effective July 1, 1989, but a sunset provision will terminate the bill July 1, 1991, if not justified and renewed by the Legislature.