Disabled Part-Time Officer Entitled To Average Earnings From Town

Police officers and firefighters injured in the performance of their jobs are entitled to “leave without loss of pay” under G.L. c.41, §111F. For full-time public safety officers, the amount of wages paid during their period of disability is relatively easy to calculate – the officer’s base pay plus most stipends and differentials (detail and overtime wages are excluded). The wages payable to disabled part-time police officers and firefighters, whose schedules frequently fluctuate from week to week, are relatively harder to determine. In Becker v. Town of Newbury, #07-P-1068 (October 9, 2008), the Appeals Court answered how to calculate the injured-on-duty benefits to part-time officers – municipalities must pay no less than the employee’s average earnings during the 12 months preceding the injury. The Court rejected the argument that the employer must pay weekly wages earned by the employee at the time of the injury. For example, the officer here earned an average of $145 per week during the past year, but was scheduled to earn $400 during the week of her injury. The Court ruled she is entitled to only $145 per week. On the bright side, the rule will benefit officers if the situation was reversed. For example, an employee who earned an average of $400 per week, but was anticipated to receive only $145 during the week of injury, will receive $400 per week for the duration of the disability or until the employee is retired.

Part-time police officers and firefighters injured in the line of duty are eligible for an additional statutory benefit, if the injury is severe enough. Recognizing that a part-time officer disabled from municipal work may be disabled from their “regular occupation” as well, the General Court added G.L. c.32, §85H provides wages of an entry-level police officer or firefighter to part-time officers whose work-related disability disables them from their “regular occupation.” (This payment is in addition to any §111F payment discussed above). The Appeals Court ruled that the outside employment must be a “regular occupation” and must “constitute at least a substantial source of income.” Here, the Court concluded that the part-time police officer’s fledgling private investigator business, which never turned a profit, did not meet this criteria. Therefore, the court ruled, she was ineligible to receive the wages of an entry-level police officer under G.L. c.32, §85H.

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