Apr 2018

State’s Top Court Weighs in on Dispute Over “Regular Compensation” for Injured Worker

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyRobert Vernava was injured at work in Massachusetts on June 13, 2010. Like any worker in the state who suffers from an on-the-job injury, he had a right to workers’ compensation benefits.

Vernava, who was employed by the Swampscott Department of Public Works, began collecting workers’ compensation on the day he was hurt. He also collected supplemental pay under Massachusetts law, which included two hours per week of sick or vacation pay.

The supplemental pay he received created a legal argument that eventually made its way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court. The justices ultimately determined that injured workers cannot use sick or vacation payments as “regular compensation.”

The case, called Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, involved a question about Vernava’s effective retirement date following his injury.

The following summarizes what happened – and illustrates how a workers’ compensation claim can become complicated.

It began when the Swampscott Retirement Board approved a request by the town to retire Vernava involuntarily for accidental disability, which is allowed by law. Another agency, the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC), found the last day Vernava received “regular compensation” was on July 7, 2012. Therefore, that was determined to be his effective retirement date.

Injured workers’ sick or vacation pay does not count as “regular compensation”

But then the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA) stepped in and reversed the decision made by PERAC. Vernava’s sick or vacation pay did not count as “regular compensation” under the law, DALA concluded. He last received regular compensation on the day he was injured, which was June 13, 2010.

DALA’s decision resulted in a new effective accidental disability retirement date: Aug. 1, 2011. PERAC sought additional review from other ruling bodies, but the DALA decision was affirmed each time.

The case ended up before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which noted that the law defines an employee’s regular compensation as “compensation received exclusively as wages by an employee for services performed in the course of employment for his employer.”

Regular compensation shall not include “unused vacation or sick leave,” the court concluded. Because Vernava was “not merely out sick or taking a vacation,” the supplemental pay should not be considered as regular compensation. He was no longer able to perform services for his employer.

As the Vernava’s case illustrates, workers’ compensation claims can quickly become complicated. A dispute can become costly and time-consuming, and it may result in a delay in payment or a reduction in compensation.

If you or a loved one was injured on the job, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney immediately. A delay could result in unwanted complications. For a free consultation, contact our workers’ compensation attorneys serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

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