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Law presses injured public workers to join return-to-work program

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Under a new Hawaii law, an injured public worker must take part in his or her employer's return-to-work program to receive vocational rehabilitation benefits through workers compensation.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed H.B. 1268 into law on Wednesday.

Introduced in January by state Rep. Mark Nakashima, a Democrat, the law states that eligible public workers “shall participate in and complete (their employer's) return-to-work program, including temporary light-duty placement efforts, as a prerequisite to vocational rehabilitation benefits.”

A public worker who retires after sustaining an occupational injury isn't eligible for vocational rehabilitation benefits, according to the law.

The point of vocational rehabilitation is to restore an injured worker's earnings capacity and return an injured worker to “suitable gainful employment in the active labor force as quickly as possible in a cost-effective manner,” the law states.