New Incentives for Employers Help Workers Recover After a Workplace Injury

Leah with one of her patients.

Written by Rena Shawver,  L&I Return to Work Partnerships

Leah’s Story

When a horse reared up behind her, all Leah could do was hope for the best as the 1,200-pound animal came down on top of her.  The vet tech knew instantly her back was broken.  After multiple surgeries to repair several breaks and a long recovery period, Leah had recovered physically as much as possible.  Among other things, her “new normal” meant no heavy lifting. She realized her permanent physical restrictions would not allow her to work with large animals again.  But being a veterinarian technician was the only work she knew; and she loved her job. 

Today, Leah is working full-time as a vet tech with a new employer at a small animal emergency clinic. Although she was hired for her skill, as a certified preferred worker through the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), her employment comes with financial incentives that will benefit both her and her employer.

Veterinarian technician Leah Wiltse-Perry was severely injured when a horse she was leading reared up and came down on her, breaking her back in several places. Through the Preferred Worker Program, she’s been able to find a medically-appropriate permanent job as a vet tech working with small animals at Pet Emergency Clinic in Spokane.

Supporting workers after recovery

Like Leah, some workers are not able to go back to their old jobs because of permanent medical restrictions caused by a workplace injury or illness. They’ve healed but are limited from doing certain tasks.

L&I certifies these workers through the Preferred Worker Program and provides financial incentives and premium relief to eligible employers who create medically-appropriate, long-term jobs for preferred workers.

Major changes to the Preferred Worker Program

Last January, the Washington State Legislature expanded the Preferred Worker Program to allow all employers in Washington State, including the employer of injury and self-insured employers, the opportunity to hire a preferred worker.

Under the rules of the expanded program, employers will receive the following:

  • Financial protection against subsequent claims,
  • Premium relief,
  • Bonus payment equal to 10% of the worker’s wages or $10,000, whichever is less, for continuous employment, and
  • Reimbursement for:
    • 50% of the base wages paid to the preferred worker, up to $10,000.
    • Some of the cost of tools, clothing, and equipment the worker needs to do the job.
Leah shows her supervisor, Mike O’Dea, DVM, and her Vocational Service Specialist, Ellen Nagourney, how the modified equipment bought through L&I’s incentive programs help her at work.

Why offer incentives to support jobs?

Many employers at heart want to help their workers after an injury, but find making that transition from the job of injury to a new job that meets the worker’s physical or mental restrictions a hardship financially.

Preferred Worker Program incentives help the worker and employer keep their relationship, giving them extra support and guidance through a transition period often with the help of a vocational counselor.

Other return-to-work incentives

Stay at Work is another return-to-work incentive program. L&I reimburses eligible employers for some of their costs when they provide temporary, light-duty jobs for injured workers while they heal. Employers covered through the workers’ compensation State Fund may qualify for financial incentives from both the Stay at Work Program and the Preferred Worker Program.

Hiring employers could also qualify for additional financial help to modify equipment at worksites that will help preferred workers complete certain work-related tasks.

Using return-to-work programs help lower an employers’ workers’ compensation costs both in the short and long-term.

Learn more about the Preferred Worker Program

Already, about 100 employers have contacted L&I with interest in hiring some of the 1,500 certified preferred workers who are ready to work and are supported by the financial incentives of the Preferred Worker Program.

To learn more, sign up for one of L&I’s  Preferred Worker workshops by going to  Or contact the Preferred Worker Program by phone at 1-800-845-2634 or by email at to ask how to apply for preferred worker benefits.

Hear more about Leah’s story by watching this video.


Risk and Reward: Auto and Other Businesses Can Tap Benefits to Help Prevent Workplace Injuries and Control Costs

L&I Blog 7.14.16

Written by Chris Alcatraz

Insurance Services, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the July issue of our monthly magazine Torch Talk. You can find past L&I articles on

Continuing our series of articles for consumers, workers and business owners, this month we focus on the automotive industry —but don’t scroll away yet! There are some good tips below that will apply to you no matter where you work, or what business you own.

What you should know about risk classifications

In Washington State, the workers’ compensation insurance system uses different risk classifications to set insurance rates based on a number of criteria including the nature of the work for the industry and the exposure to risk for injury.  Things like what equipment and materials are used on the job and what duties are performed are considered. Businesses may be assigned to multiple risk classifications if the nature of the work performed is significantly different from job to job.

Example: Risk Classification 3411 covers automobile and RV dealerships, along with repair shops.   However, sales personnel at auto and RV dealerships who do not perform vehicle repair or maintenance – and therefore are exposed to less risk for injury on the job — may be reported separately in Risk Classification 6301. This risk class is specifically written to include showing vehicles, performing clerical work and taking test drives.

Why it matters: Premiums, also called rates, vary based on the assigned risk classification.  The base rate for auto and RV dealerships is $1.2174 per worker hour in 2016, while the base rate for sales personnel is only $0.3898 per hour.  Business owners should check to make sure their worker hours are being reported under the correct risk classification.  It makes good business sense to pay only the amount needed for insurance coverage.

The Takeaway: Go to and use the “Risk Class Lookup” tool to search for risk classifications by key words.

Contact: Call L&I’s Employer Services at 360-902-4817 to talk to your Account Manager if you need additional risk classifications added to cover your business, or if you have questions on how your workers are classified.

Watch out for injuries!

Around 33 percent of all job-related injuries that occur at automobile and RV dealerships, parts stores and auto repair shops are related to strains and sprains.


  • Lifting and carrying heavy parts to and from storage.L&I Blog Graph 7.14.16
  • Holding heavy parts in place during installation.
  • Lifting and lowering wheels during service.
  • Working for long periods in awkward positions, such as bending at the back, kneeling, squatting.
  • Reaching overhead, lifting above the shoulders or below the knees.
  • Using heavy tools, or tools that require a lot of force to operate

Why it matters: You can prevent injuries by knowing what to look out for, and by being mindful of the risk of awkward postures while you are working.

The Takeaway: L&I’s website contains information on Washington laws for safe workplaces, as well as some great tips for keeping workers and do-it-yourselfers safe. Check out these resources for:

Contact: L&I offers businesses free consultation services for safety, risk and ergonomics assessments. Safety and Health Consultations include going over your Accident Prevention Program, plus looking for hidden hazards that could cause injury or illness, and providing air and noise monitoring services.  Risk Management Consultations provide you with information on how to protect your Claim-Free Discount and manage an injury claim to maximize recovery and control costs.  Ergonomics Specialists can come to your worksite and spot potential causes for sprains and strains.  Find out more about L&I’s free consultation services for businesses at .

Injured at work? Advice for workers and employers

If you are injured at work, be sure to notify your employer and seek necessary medical treatment as soon as possible. If you need help finding an L&I network medical provider, go to  Your medical provider can assist you with filing a workers’ compensation claim, or you can file online at or call 1-877-561-3453 to file a claim by phone.

Your medical provider will give you a form noting any work restrictions. Ask your employer about light-duty if you do have work restrictions.  L&I staff can assist your employer if needed by helping identify light-duty tasks that will meet your medical restrictions while you recover.

Light-Duty Work Examples:

  • Parts Driver
  • Repair estimator
  • Inventory
  • Tool cleaner
  • Light mechanical work such as oil changes
  • Checking in customers, scheduling appointments and cashiering

Why it matters: Returning to work in a medically-appropriate light-duty or modified job has been proven to speed the recovery process, and reduces the risk of depression and permanent disability.

The Takeaway: Washington’s Stay at Work Program reimburses eligible employers for a significant portion of the costs to support medically-approved light-duty, including:

  • 50 percent of the base wages paid to injured worker (up to $10,000 or 66 days).
  • Up to $2,500 for equipment and tools.
  • Up to $1,000 for training and materials.
  • Up to $400 for clothing for the light-duty job.

Reimbursements may include funds towards purchasing a lift, or special gloves to reduce vibration to the hands, for example.  Businesses need to meet certain criteria for the reimbursement, so it’s best to understand how the program works before an injury occurs.

Contact: To learn more, go to  or email staff at or call 1-866-406-2482.

Making it easier to do business

Insurance coverage for occupational and industrial insurance, also known as worker’s compensation, is offered to most businesses exclusively through the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). Supporting businesses with information to help make workplaces safe and help injured workers heal and return to work are two priority goals. If you have any questions about your coverage, check out the information and resources available at or contact your L&I Account Manager.