Once you’ve successfully filed a workers’ compensation claim and obtained an award of benefits, your employer may attempt various techniques to stop paying, or avoid paying entirely, the benefits you were awarded. In one recent Supreme Judicial Court case, the employer tried to avoid paying because the benefits recipient was suspended from his job, and the law denies suspended public employees the right to receive any compensation. The High Court declared that a worker’s workers’ compensation benefits aren’t “compensation” in that context, so even a suspended employee can continue to receive his benefits. This important decision highlights the fact that, even if you have some unfavorable facts in your case, the law may still entitle you to a successful outcome, which is but one of many reasons why it is important to work with a knowledgeable Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to pursue and protect your rights.
The case involved Brian, a man who had been employed by the City of Boston as an EMT and paramedic for nearly two decades when, in 2011, he suffered a significant ankle injury while transporting a patient. The injury was serious enough that the paramedic was able to pursue a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and receive benefits for nearly a year. Then, in 2012, Brian got indicted on drug charges related to the misuse of drugs intended for EMS patients.
The city suspended Brian indefinitely without pay. In addition to ceasing paying the paramedic his salary, moreover, the city stopped paying the man his workers’ compensation benefits. The paramedic complained to the appropriate governmental body, the Department of Industrial Accidents, and the department ordered the city to resume making the workers’ compensation payments. The city did not do so.
Therefore, Brian filed a lawsuit in civil court, seeking an order that would enforce the decision of the department. The city argued, in its defense, that it was not obligated to pay Brian any more workers’ compensation benefits. The statute that the city used to support its case, which covered payments to suspended public employees, stated that suspended employees were not entitled to receive “any compensation or salary during the period of suspension.” The trial court accepted that argument and ruled for the city.
Brian appealed, and he won. His victory, and the court opinion on the dispute, is important when it comes to determining when an employer can (and cannot) cut off workers’ compensation benefits. Brian won because, while the city and the trial court were correct that suspended public employees weren’t entitled to compensation or salary, those employees are still entitled to their workers’ compensation benefits because those benefits are not compensation or salary under the law. The suspension law upon which the city had based its case expressly stated that compensation is something of value provided “in exchange for services rendered.” Workers’ compensation benefits don’t fit that definition, according to the court. Workers’ compensation benefits are payments made in exchange for the worker’s decision to waive his right to file a personal injury lawsuit, rather than for services he performed.
If you’ve been hurt on the job, you need to make sure you have powerful representation on your side. Contact skilled Plymouth County workers’ compensation lawyer Michael S. Mehrmann. Our team is proud to assist and represent injured workers across Plymouth County, including in Kingston, Plymouth, Marshfield, Hanson, Carver, Pembroke, and Duxbury. To find out more about how we can help you, call (781) 585-3911 or contact us online.