Equitable access to Return to Work bill heard in the House

Jan 19, 2023
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Written by Washington Retail
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HB 1137 had a public hearing in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee on Tuesday. This bill introduces a flexible option to match injured workers to temporary volunteering positions with community service organizations to perform light-duty work approved by workers’ healthcare providers. California has over 7,000 nonprofit agencies receiving 6.4 million hours of volunteer time. While the hours are “volunteer,” the injured workers are paid by their own employers for their time. The model is practiced widely in most other US states, including Ohio—a state with a monopolistic worker’s comp system like Washington’s.

The Washington Trucking Association, the Washington State Dental Association, the Building Industry Association of Washington, the Work Bridge Group, and ReEmployability joined Washington Retail Association Vice President Rose Gundersen in support of the bill. ReEmployability—an organization that has assisted in these off-site light duty arrangements for 20 years—testified about how they arrange meaningful volunteering light duty positions with nonprofits, resulting in life-giving benefits to both the injured workers and their communities.

Over twenty business organizations, including the Ironworkers’ Union, Build Back Black Alliance, and individuals signed in support. A recent study shows that volunteering light duty contributes to injured workers’ mental health recovery and physical rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, the Washington Association for Justice (WAJ)—aka, trial lawyers—and the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) testified in opposition to the bill, despite WR’s unsuccessful attempt to reach both organizations several weeks ago. WAJ and WSLC testified to employers’ apparent “abuse” of the current Return to Work program, citing hearsay examples of workers being relegated to reading manuals and other non-productive assignments. The two organizations said that extending the opportunity to nonprofits would accelerate “abuse” by employers while workers would lose training benefits.

WR would like to extend our gratitude to the prime sponsor of HB 1137, Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R-14), and the Co-Sponsor, Rep. Liz Berry, Chair of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. WR anticipates a similar bill—SB 5368—to be heard in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. We will provide updates as work on these bills progresses.

    

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