How to use the Preferred Worker Program

Despite our best efforts, some workplace injuries or occupational diseases are severe enough that full recovery isn’t possible. This is where the Preferred Worker Program can make a huge difference for employers and workers.

The Preferred Worker Program is one of L&I’s incentive programs where they can certify a worker with permanent medical restrictions as a “preferred worker.” This certification opens the door to return-to-work solutions with thousands of dollars in incentives for employers who bring a certified preferred worker back to a permanent job that is suited to the employee’s medical restrictions.

You should start thinking about the Preferred Worker Program as soon as you learn that an injured worker may have long-term or permanent work restrictions.


three main points of the Preferred Worker Program, in a nutshell:

  1. The hiring employer is covered by 3 years of new clam protection. This means any new claims filed by the Preferred Worker will not impact their experience rating or retro refund.
  2. By returning their injured Preferred Worker to a new job the claim can close, resulting in huge cost savings in many cases.
  3. The employer can be reimbursed for many of the direct costs of offering the job, including 50 % wage reimbursement for 3 months; equipment costs and a bonus after 12 months on the job.

“Another great benefit,” explains Marie Vartanian, Vocational Services Coordinator at Approach Management Services, “is that employers can keep an experienced, trained employee on-board, which is so important in this tight labor market.”

How to use it

You should start thinking about the Preferred Worker Program as soon as you learn that an injured worker may have long-term or permanent work restrictions.

In the old days, this meant either a costly retraining process or worse a pension due to disability.  Both of these outcomes result in enormous claim costs.  The Preferred Worker Program offers new opportunities to consider creative working solutions that prevents disability and rate crippling claim costs.

Your Retro Coordinator at Approach will help you assess the potential costs of each potential outcome for your claim, so you can see if the Preferred Worker Program might be a good option. If so, Approach can also help you (or the vocational counselor on the claim) to write a job description for the permanent position and navigate the program.

The job description will have to be approved by a physician and L&I, so it’s important to think “can we modify a job or reassign worker to another position,” says Vartanian. She also recommends thinking about “whether there are tools and equipment to assist with the worker’s successful job transition?” Sometimes simply changing the way in which a tool is utilized is enough to make the job appropriate for your employee.

Partnering with employers

Approach was one of the first administrators in Washington State to utilize Preferred Worker Program (PWP) in this way and we have guided many employers through the process. If your claim is identified as a potential match for PWP, we will take you through the program step-by-step. This is important, as you’re likely to encounter many physicians, vocational consultants, and claim professionals along the way who are not yet familiar with the program or how it works.

For more information about PWP, including the specific incentives and reimbursements available, contact your retro coordinator or download our infographic. Remember, to keep a valued employee and protect your bottom line, hire Preferred!


View Our Infographic (click to Enlarge Graphic)

Preferred Worker Program Forms

Update Nov 2020: Preferred worker forms are available in the Client Portal under Return to Work