The Department of Industrial Relations Division of Workers' Compensation is facing a legislatively imposed deadline to update the Permanent Disability Rating Schedule by January 1, 2010, but the Division is going to ignore the mandate. "We're deferring action on updating the PDRS. We're not going to amend the schedule prior to January 1, 2010," Susan Gard, director of policy and legislation for the DWC, tells Workers' Comp Executive.
"Benefits for permanently disabled workers are a high priority for us, but at this point in time with the unprecedented economic environment, updating the schedule would strain an already fragile employment situation," she maintains. Gard confirmed yesterday that the formal decision not to proceed has officially been made.
The Division started the process to update the schedule nearly two years ago with the release of a proposed rulemaking package. That proposal would have increased ratings by an estimated 12% while actual benefit awards were expected to increase an average of 16%. But that rulemaking process was allowed to lapse last July as the Schwarzenegger administration sought to protect California's fragile economy.
At that time, Division executives said refocusing its attention on the January 1, 2010 statutory deadline was the order of the day. Now it says it is hopeful for a broader legislative solution in 2010.
There was a glimmer of hope earlier this fall that private negotiations between employer and labor representatives at the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation would produce a legislative compromise to boost PD benefits while cutting costs elsewhere in the system. But those discussions collapsed as others objected to the secretive nature of the negotiations.
But Gard says informal talks are on-going and that a legislative solution could be in the offing in 2010. And if one materializes, she says the Division will be ready to respond. As part of that initial rulemaking process, DWC began collecting updated wage loss data for use in a new schedule. Gard says that data collection is continuing to this day.
"So when the economy is stabilized, the employment situation is stabilized, and the legal issues [surrounding the Almaraz/Guzman and Ogilvie decisions] are resolved, we'll be ready with current wage loss data," she promises.
What's unclear at this point is what action, if any, labor and/or the applicant's bar will take once the Division officially misses the deadline. Calls to the California Labor Federation and the California Applicant Attorneys Association were not returned by close of business last night.
Filed in San Francisco by Brad Cain.