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Preferred Worker Program

Who gets certified as a Preferred Worker?

Individuals may be categorized as preferred workers if they have a work-related injury or occupational disease and are unable to return to the job where they suffered their present injury. When the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) certifies someone as a preferred worker, it does not mean that the individual is disabled; it simply means that because of his or her injury, the worker cannot perform the specific duties of the position he or she held under a former employer. Individuals must also meet the following criteria to become preferred workers:

  • The worker has an open L&I claim or a claim that has been closed for no more than 60 days.
  • The worker’s condition requires that he or she change jobs in order to attain suitable work.
  • The worker had received a recommendation for preferred worker status by a vocational counselor.
  • The worker is currently seeking work or on-the-job training.

Vocational counselors or claims managers generally facilitate the process by which injured workers are given a preferred worker certificate. Click here to learn more about preferred worker status.

Drawbacks of the Preferred Worker Program

While the Preferred Worker Program can be beneficial to workers in some cases, it is primarily a windfall for employers and the state since the preferred worker status can be used as an excuse to prematurely release workers from medical care and into a new employment position for which they are not suited. In other words, the preferred worker certification becomes a pretext for convincing a worker that he or she has completed medical treatment and should be released to work, even when the individual has not adequately recovered from injuries or an occupational illness. Moreover, since the Preferred Worker Program is geared toward employer tax savings, employers have less of an incentive to focus on helping the injured worker by keeping the workplace safe. If you or someone you know has been granted preferred worker status, contact an attorney immediately to learn more about your rights. Workers have only 14 days to appeal certain vocational determination in Washington State

Employer Benefits

The Preferred Worker Program provides employers with an opportunity to save money by hiring workers who are unable to return to their old jobs after suffering a work-related injury or occupational disease. L&I grants financial protection from subsequent worker injuries to employers when they hire a preferred worker. In the case that a preferred worker experiences a work-related injury or occupational disease within three years of the hiring date, L&I assumes responsibility for paying all claims costs through a “second injury fund.” In addition, the employer is protected from any experience rating penalties that might otherwise be applied to their account following an on-the-job injury. Qualified employers who hire someone with a valid preferred worker certificate receive 36 months of premium relief.

Employers covered by the Washington State Fund are also exempt from paying accident fund or medical aid premiums on preferred workers for three years after the hiring date. The employer pays only the supplemental pension premium.

Employer qualifications

Both Washington State Fund and self-insured employers can qualify for preferred worker benefits when they hire an individual who has been certified as a preferred worker prior to the hiring date. In addition, the new hire cannot have worked for that particular employer at the time of his or her injury. Employers must complete and file an “Intent to Hire a Preferred Worker” form with L&I within 60 days of the date of hire.

Additional Information



Contact Information:
Department of Labor and Industries
Preferred Worker Program
PO Box 44324
Olympia WA 98504-4324
360-902-6763 or (TDD) 902-5056

For a free consultation, we invite you to contact us.

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