Court Rules on Cases Involving Public Safety Officers
By Adam Dombchik, Esq.
Recently the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled on two cases involving public safety officers. The following is a recap of the Court's findings.
Updating a Case Involving a Labor Code 4850 Benefit Dispute
Labor Code Section 4850 guarantees certain public safety employees who are disabled from an on-the-job injury "a leave of absence while so disabled without loss of salary in lieu of temporary disability payments." The question in the case of County of Nevada v. WCAB (Lade) was whether this section applied to guarantee no loss of salary to Officer Lade after he was returned to work on modified duty. In this case, prior to his injury, Officer Lade worked the night shift and was entitled to a five percent shift differential for this work. After his injury, for periods completely off work due to his injury, he received his Labor Code Section 4850 pay, which included the night shift differential. However, there were two periods where he returned to work on modified duty and his modified duty involved working the day shift. The city refused to pay the shift differential while he was working the day shift in this modified duty capacity. Officer Lade challenged this decision by the city and litigated the case through the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board and through the 3rd District Court of Appeals. Ultimately, the 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled against Officer Lade and in favor of the city in concluding that "a 'leave of absence' as required by Labor Code Section 4850 is a foundational prerequisite to the application of Section 4850's no-loss-of-salary guarantee, and a person who has returned to work, even on modified duty like Officer Lade, is not on a leave of absence." Therefore, in this case, the only money Officer Lade was entitled to was his salary, absent the shift differential, while working the day shift in a modified duty capacity.
On February 13, 2014, Officer Lade filed a request to have the 3rd District Court of Appeal reconsider this decision. A determination is pending.
Court Rules that Temporary Disability Benefits Apply To Volunteer Peace Officers
The 3rd District Court of Appeal has ruled that the benefits provided under Labor Code Section 4458.2 extend only to volunteer peace officers and not to regularly sworn, salaried officers.
The ruling pertained to the case of Larkin v. WCAB (Marysville, CA), in which John Larkin, a police officer for the city of Marysville, suffered work-related injuries to his neck, right shoulder, left upper thigh, face, right bicep and nose. He filed a workers' compensation claim, asserting that he was entitled to disability payments at the maximum rate, citing Labor Code Section 4458.2.
This particular labor code states that if an active peace officer is injured while on duty, he or she is entitled to the maximum amount of temporary disability benefits, regardless of the officer's average weekly earnings. This labor code section relies on a different section—3362—to provide a definition of a peace officer. A workers' compensation judge deemed that this definition—as outlined in Section 3362—pertains only to active volunteer peace officers, and the 3rd District Court of Appeal agreed.
In finding that Sections 4458.2 and 3362 apply to volunteer peace officers only, the court said: "The policy underlying these statutes is to encourage public service to these agencies by providing maximum benefits to volunteers injured in providing such service."