Job Availability for Retrained Workers after a Work-related Injuries: A Case Study

Recently, our firm represented a man who was badly injured and clearly could not return to his ordinary job, which was quite physical. The Department of Labor and Industries wanted to retrain our client to be employable, and the client was quite willing. Under Labor and Industries law, to be removed from consideration for disability benefits, you must be found employable in your local area. This is VERY unlike procedures for the Social Security Administration, where the Federal Government can deny you benefits simply because there is a job you can perform somewhere in the United States.

This rule, or standard, is very important to rural areas and farming communities, particularly in Eastern Washington, where there isn’t a large number of job opportunities.

Sure enough, the client was trained and eventually skilled enough to perform a job less strenuous.  However, the actual position only existed at 3 places in his small town. There were two other such jobs in a town located 35 miles away (which was on the other side of a modest mountain).  A significant problem was that all of these employers didn’t hire more than once a year, if that. One employer only hired every three years.

This brings us to the very important issue of job availability. The job doesn’t merely have to exist for a retrained worker, but it must be available, there must be ample hiring opportunities — likely at least a handful of opportunities per year (and again, all opportunities must be local).

The Department of Labor and Industries felt that this client had adequate employment opportunities, and stopped his timeloss benefits, his medical benefits, and closed his claim. Our firm then began representing this man and appealed the decision to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.   We argued that traveling a 35-mile distance over a mountain in unpredictable weather on a daily basis was not reasonable. We further argued that very few hirings over a course of years was not a reasonable employment opportunity.

The judge agreed on both issues and found that this man was clearly disabled. He simply could not be found employable where he was living, and the Department cannot at any point force relocation to be employable. The man was granted 2 years of back timeloss for lost wages, was placed on a full disability pension, and is receiving a monthly pension benefit for the rest of his life.