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Injured Massachusetts Correctional Officer Receives Workers’ Compensation Plus More

A correctional officer works in a hazardous environment. Work hours are spent, not necessarily around dangerous chemicals or machines, but with prison or jail inmates, who can sometimes be dangerous people.

A correctional officer injured at work is entitled not only to workers’ compensation, but also to additional benefits, such as assault pay, similar in concept to the combat pay awarded to members of the military for serving in a battle zone. Assault pay is available to correctional officers in addition to workers’ compensation benefits, and the two schemes are related benefit programs.

In a case, William Benson vs. Commonwealth, No. 13-P-1134, decided in May 2014 by the Appeals Court of Massachusetts, an injured officer disputed the lower court’s calculation of his separate benefit payments for assault pay, which were paid in addition to his benefits for workers’ compensation.

The plaintiff had been employed as an officer at the Suffolk County Jail and was injured as a result of inmate violence. He received both workers’ compensation and assault pay benefits after his injury.

Prior to the injury, the plaintiff had received extra pay for a night shift differential for work during evening hours as well as a weekend shift differential for all regularly scheduled hours he worked between 11:00 p.m. Friday and 11:00 p.m. Sunday. He also accrued vacation time for those hours.

A Superior Court awarded the plaintiff a supplemental benefit for assault pay based on the difference between his average weekly wage before he was injured and his regular salary.

For purposes of workers’ compensation, ‘average weekly wages’ are defined as the injured employee’s earnings for the 12 calendar months immediately preceding the date of injury, divided by 52.

‘Regular salary’ refers to the salary an employee would receive for the same position.

The employee argued, however, that his separate award for assault pay should have been increased for night shift differential, weekend shift differential, holiday pay, and vacation accrual from his time as an active employee. The plaintiff argued that these supplements should have been included in his ‘regular salary’ to calculate his assault pay.

The Appeals Court affirmed the Superior Court ruling, which distinguished between the plaintiff’s benefit for workers’ compensation, which was based on his average weekly wages, and assault pay, which was based on his regular salary.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the additional pay, such as the night-shift differential, weekend differential, holiday pay, and holiday accrual, was already included in the plaintiff’s average weekly wage and therefore had been included in his benefit payments under workers’ compensation.

The court rejected using the plaintiff’s additional pay for working nights, weekends, and holidays in his assault pay benefits because that would amount to double payment.

In any event, the injured correctional officer received both assault pay and benefits under workers’ compensation.

If you are hurt at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, and other benefits as well. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules or give you guidance if there is no insurance available. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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