Injured? What you need to know

Getting back to work

Some injured workers miss days of work while they recover. However, many can return to work gradually, while still receiving medical benefits. Research shows that the sooner you are able to return to work, the better your chances are for recovering your income and health. L&I can help.

Know the top 3 reasons to work light-duty

Prescription form reading light-duty job
  1. Continue to earn wages. Time-loss only pays 60-75% of your lost wages. Returning to work helps preserve your earning power.
  2. Recover faster. Being back in the workplace can improve both your physical and mental health.
  3. Keep your job secure. A continued relationship with your employer is important in this economy. Studies show that the longer you are off work, the harder it is to get back to your original job and wages.

We understand some injuries are so severe you can't go back to work right away. With most injuries, however, an early and medically-approved return to work makes sense.

Returning to work as quickly as possible is a team effort between you, your doctor, and your employer. Stay in touch with them. L&I will provide assistance when you need it.

Pamphlet: Getting Back to Work: It's Your Job and Your Future

Did you know?

We will reimburse your employer 50% of your base wages if they are able to find an eligible light-duty job for you. We will also cover expenses such as training and tools related to the light-duty job. More on eligibility and what your employer can get reimbursed for at

Ask your doctor about your medical restrictions.

Prescription form reading light-duty job

You have a right to receive a Doctor's Estimate of Physical Capacities from your doctor, detailing your medical restrictions or what physical activities you can and cannot do during recovery.

Questions workers have

Will I lose my medical benefits if I return to work?

No. Injured workers do not lose medical benefits until their doctor certifies that they have completed their treatment.

What if my employer asks me to do work that my doctor won't allow?

Contact your claim manager or ask your doctor for a copy of your work restrictions Insurer Activity Prescription Form (F242‑385‑000) to show your employer. If your employer doesn't have any light duty available, you are still eligible for time-loss compensation.

Did you know?

You can get valuable information about any drugs prescribed for you at the National Institute of Health (

Tell your employer you're interested in light-duty work.

Employer talking to employee

Many times, an employer can find a different job you can do with your medical restrictions, while you recover.

Tell your employer we will reimburse them 50% of your base wage, as well as expenses such as training and tools related to the light-duty job. See more on eligibility at

Questions workers have

What are some examples of light-duty work?
  • Working shorter hours.
  • Performing transitional work. For example, performing some of your original duties, or different duties with lighter physical demands.
  • Performing a different job temporarily.
  • Working in a modified job. For example, making adjustments to the job or work site to meet your physical limitations, or providing tools, equipment or appliances that allow you to work while recovering.
Do I have to accept any job my employer offers me?

If your employer offers you a job that your doctor approves and you choose not to accept it, you won't be eligible to receive time-loss compensation. However, you aren't required to accept any job that would exceed the restrictions set by your doctor. Any disputes regarding job offers will be decided by your L&I Claim Manager or the Vocational Services Specialist in Self-Insurance.

What if I don't earn as much money doing a light-duty or reduced-hours job?

You may apply for Loss of Earning Power benefits through L&I, or your employer if it's self-insured (find out if your employer is self-insured). Loss of Earning Power benefits may help supplement your salary while you are working if you meet both of the following criteria:

  • Your claim is still open.
  • Your salary has dropped by more than 5%.
Why would my employer care if I returned quickly to work?
  • As an experienced employee, you are valuable to your employer.
  • They can be reimbursed for 50% of your base wage if they can find you a medically approved light-duty job. L&I will also pay for expenses such as training and tools relate to the light-duty job. For details, see
  • Employers benefit when the cost of your claim is lower, because it means their workers' compensation rates won't increase as much.
Will I lose my medical benefits if I return to work?

No. You can continue to receive treatment for your industrial injury until your doctor certifies that your treatment is completed.

Tell your employer about the Stay at Work reimbursement.

Man with injury working in light-duty jo

If your employer can find you a light-duty job within your medical restrictions, we will reimburse them 50% of your base wages, as well as expenses such as training and tools related to the light-duty job.

This incentive is awarded through L&I's new Stay at Work program. Make sure your employer knows about it. It helps both of you:

  • You are more likely to earn close to your original wage/salary on a light-duty job than you are on time-loss. You also stay connected to your workplace, making it easier to get back to your original job and wages.
  • Your employer keeps an experienced employee on board, and gets financial help to provide light-duty work.

More on eligibility at


Vocational counselors

Vocational Counselor

Vocational counselors help injured workers and employers identify return to work options including job modifications. If no appropriate return to work options can be identified with your employer, the vocational counselor will assess your ability to work or need for further services. If you are eligible for vocational services your counselor will help you develop a rehabilitation plan aimed at helping you return to the workplace.

Questions workers have

What if I'm not qualified to do any available jobs in my area?

If L&I determines that you don't have the transferable job skills necessary to work in your labor market, you may be eligible for training for a new line of work.

Will L&I pay for me to attend college or a training school?

Workers' compensation may cover the cost of a college course or program, combined with some on-the-job training, or a technical program.

What if I live or move out of state?

Vocational services may continue depending on your ability to participate.

Your benefits could stop if you move while you are in an approved retraining plan and you aren't available to participate. Relocation is strongly discouraged until after the completion of your plan.

Did you know?

Time-loss compensation and medical benefits are usually suspended or cut off if the worker fails to participate in the vocational retraining plan without good cause.

Learn about becoming a preferred worker.

Preferred worker

L&I gives employers financial incentives to hire workers who, because of a workplace injury or occupational disease, cannot return to their old job.

L&I certifies a preferred worker for 36 months.

Questions workers have

Your vocational counselor will help. You must meet the following criteria:

  • You have an open claim for a work-related injury or illness.
  • A vocational counselor recommends you for preferred-worker status.
How does Preferred Worker (PW) status help me?

It can help you in your job search. A new employer who offers you work within your medical restrictions receives financial benefits:

  • If you were to have a new injury during your PW eligibility period, L&I will pay the costs of the new claim with no direct cost or penalty to your new employer.
  • The employer does not pay accident fund or medical aid premiums.

You will not have to pay the employee's Medical Aid Fund premium during your PW eligibility period.

How long does this benefit last? Can it be extended?

You have Preferred Worker (PW) eligibility for a maximum of 36 months. Your certification letter lists your start date and expiration date. Any time during that period that you are working in an approved PW job, the PW benefits cover you and your employer. Once the expiration date is reached, the PW benefits end. There are no extensions beyond the maximum 36 months. However, if you are medically unable to work due to your industrial injury during part of your PW eligibility period and your claim is still open, your certification period may be adjusted (decertified) for the period you were unable to look for work.

Note: If in the future your condition improves to the point your doctor releases you to return to work with no restrictions, you will no longer meet the eligibility for PW benefits.

Am I limited to just certain types of jobs? Can I use Preferred Worker (PW) out of state?

You may look for any type of job as long as it is within your medical restrictions. You are NOT limited to the job titles you were found employable in or the job you trained for. The job can be part time or full time. You can apply the PW benefit to 2 employers at the same time. Employers in other states that are not governed by the workers compensation laws of Washington would not benefit from this program.

Can I change employers?

Yes, you can change employers as many times as you want within the 36 month eligibility period. Whatever time remains in your Preferred Worker (PW) eligibility period can be applied to a new employer.

Am I required to tell an employer I am a Preferred Worker?

You are not required to; it's your choice. Decide if you want to use the Preferred Worker (PW) benefit in your job search.

  • Some workers prefer not to reveal that they had a work injury for fear that information would discourage a particular employer from hiring them.
  • However, there are employers who welcome Preferred Workers—as long as the job is within the worker's medical restrictions—because of the financial incentives it offers employers.

Why do I need to know my work restrictions?

You need to know your medical restrictions so that you are applying for jobs that can be approved for Preferred Worker (PW) benefits. When your new employer requests to use the PW benefits, they submit a job description for the new job. If it exceeds the restrictions we have on file, we cannot approve the job.

Know your medical work restrictions. Do you have a copy of your most recent APF (Activity Prescription Form) or PCE (Physical Capacity Evaluation)? You can find these records on the Claim & Account Center.

Note: The employer can still hire you if they want, but the risk of future injury would be on their workers' comp record, they would not be covered by the PW program.

Is there a list of employers interested in hiring a Preferred Worker (PW)?

There is no list of employers. It's up to you to mention your PW status. Many employers are familiar with the Preferred Worker benefits. For those who are not, the PW brochure is a good introduction.

What can I do if the employer has questions about the Preferred Worker (PW) program?
  • Make sure to show them the PW brochure you received with your PW certification letter.
  • Encourage them to go to for more information, including a calculator that lets them estimate potential savings from the PW program.
  • Tell them they can call the PW desk at L&I (1-800-845-2634).
  • You can call the PW desk yourself if you have questions.
How do I get more information?

Contact the Preferred Worker program:

Department of Labor & Industries
Preferred Worker Program.
P.O. Box 44324.
Olympia WA 98504-4324.

Phone: 800-845-2634

Download L&I's Preferred Worker Program (F280‑021‑000) publication.

Many resources are available to help you return to work or train for a new job once your claim is closed:

Return to work

Train for a new job

Learn about training options.

Vocational Counselor

Vocational plans are developed to train disabled workers for new work. If you qualify, you and your vocational counselor will draft a vocational plan identifying services you will need to become employable again.

This plan will show the responsibilities that you, your counselor, your employer and others will have as you work toward this goal.

Once your plan is approved, you will have 2 options. Choosing between them is an important decision. In addition to talking with your counselor, you may want to talk with family members or professional consultants before making your final selection.

Vocational options

  Vocational Option 1
Follow your L&I-approved plan
Vocational Option 2
Develop your own plan
Total amount available for vocational training $18,294.57* $18,294.57*
Time limit for training 2 years 5 years
Training plan You are required to follow the L&I-approved plan developed by the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. You can use your training money for tuition or training costs for L&I-approved programs. The retraining goal or program you choose can be different from the retraining plan submitted by the VRC/approved by L&I.
Time-loss compensation You will continue to receive time-loss compensation as long as you participate and meet all the requirements of our approved plan. Time-loss payments will end and your claim will close. You will receive a vocational award equivalent to 9 months of time-loss compensation paid out every 2 weeks.
Medical benefits You will continue to receive medical benefits related to your injury or disease as long as you participate and meet all the requirements of your approved plan. Your claim will close and medical benefits will end.

* The maximum retraining cost is adjusted July 1 each year and the new amount is available for plans approved on or after July 1.

Additional information

Your employer needs to:

  • Cooperate with the doctor, claim manager or vocational counselor as they try to find other work options for you.
  • Know that if they can find safe light-duty or transitional work for you while you recover, they can get reimbursed for 50% of the base wages they pay, plus expenses such as tools, training or clothing needed. Employers can read more about this incentive at
  • Know that you, the worker, have the right to refuse job assignments that violate the medical restrictions from your doctor.

Your doctor needs to:

  • Clearly evaluate your work restrictions — and communicate them promptly to the employer, worker and claim manager.
  • Respond to requests to approve or disapprove a particular job offer, based on the worker’s medical restrictions. Need help? Call the Provider Hotline at 1‑800‑848‑0811.
  • Continue to certify time-loss compensation, at least once every 30 days, as long as the patient is unable to work.
  • Make sure only a medical doctor, advanced registered nurse practitioner or physician assistant completes and signs the Report of Accident and Activity Prescription forms.
  • Read L&I's Attending Doctor's Return-to-Work Desk Reference (F200‑002‑000).
 More about workers' comp claims
 Claim information online in Claim & Account Center

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