Legislatures Restores Benefit For Disabled Public Employees

It is an unfortunate reality of the modern workplace that public employees can and do become permanently disabled simply by doing their job. Police officers and firefighters, in particular, who respond to the call of duty can suddenly find themselves unable to work a job that has been a lifelong passion.

Thankfully, Massachusetts law recognizes the great sacrifice made by these public employees. Chapter 32, Section 7 of Massachusetts General Laws provides Accidental Disability Retirement for persons who sustain a career-ending injury in their work. This statutory safety net provides 72 percent of an employee’s regular compensation. For years, the retirement allowance was based upon compensation earned by the disabled employee on the date of injury or the compensation earned during the 12 months prior to retirement. (Contrary to myths fueled by the media, overtime and traffic details are not considered part of compensation and therefore are excluded from public employee retirement calculations).

Last year, the Massachusetts legislature reformed the public employee disability retirement laws. This reform was, in part, an effort to curb the practice of disabled employees being temporarily promoted on the date of injury. The reform, however, eliminated the option of calculating disability retirement allowance on the compensation for 12 months prior to retirement. The unintended consequence of this change was that disability retirees faced a dramatic reduction in their pay because of the time that can elapse between the date of injury and the date of retirement (Delay can be caused by an employee’s efforts to return to work or exhaust all medical improvement options, or by bureaucratic delay involved in processing a disability retirement application).

Sandulli Grace, PC, was very vocal in its criticisms of this aspect of the law. Thankfully, the Massachusetts legislature recognized the problem and restored the longstanding option of using last 12 months of compensation for the basis of calculating retirement allowance. (The base compensation refers to the employee’s permanent position and not any temporary position the employee may have had at the time of retirement). This amendment is retroactive to July 1, 2009. Disabled public employees who retired after July 1, 2009 should contact their retirement board to confirm that you are receiving the intended benefits of this change.

A memo explaining the new change by the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission is attached.

Download PERAC memo

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