What if I am a California Police Officer injured at work?

There are special rules for police officers who are injured at work.

These rules give California police officers additional benefits and make it easier for you to get compensated for injuries that might not be considered work injuries if you were in another job.

It is important to understand:

  1. Who is considered a police officer
  2. The additional benefits a police officer can receive
  3. How those benefits fit with the general rules related to work injuries

This article will explain:

1. What special California workers' compensation benefits do police officers receive?

Workers' compensation benefits provide medical treatment, temporary disability, permanent disability and death benefits. Police officers receive two benefits that are not available to regular injured workers.

  • When a police officer is injured and unable to work, you can receive one year of full salary in lieu of disability benefits, which are two-thirds of your salary.1
  • When a police officer has a medical condition listed below, it is presumed that it is a work injury. You get the benefit of the doubt as to the cause of your injury that an injured worker in another industry may not get. This also allows you to receive medical treatment for that condition and disability benefits.2

The Labor Code defines “police officer” differently for each set of benefits. Each of these situations are addressed below.

2. Payment at full salary under Labor Code section 4850 when a police officer is unable to work due to a work injury

A police officer includes3:

  • city police officer,
  • sheriffs,
  • other employees of a sheriff's department,
  • inspectors, investigators, detectives, other similar personnel in a district attorney's office
  • county probation officers, group counselors, juvenile service officers
  • other employees of a probation office
  • park ranger
  • airport law enforcement
  • harbor police
  • police officers of the Los Angeles Unified School District

It does not apply to other personnel such as telephone operators, clerks, stenographers, machinists, mechanics, or people whose functions do not fall within the scope of active law enforcement service.4

A police officer is entitled to one year of full salary “4850 benefits” if he or she is unable to work due to a work injury.5

Workers in other industries would only receive temporary or permanent disability payments.

Temporary disability is when you cannot work and still require treatment. Temporary disability benefits are limited to two-thirds of your salary and capped at a certain amount.

Permanent disability is when your condition is not going to change, and you have permanent loss of ability. Permanent disability benefits are capped at $290 a week.

The “4850 benefits” benefits are not taxable.6

The one year of full salary for California police officers is often called “4850 benefits.”

After the one-year period, police officers are entitled to receive temporary disability benefits if you still can't work.7

However, a police officer cannot get both “4850 benefits” and disability benefits at the same time.8

2.1 Are “4850 benefits” included in the limitation on temporary disability?

Any injured worker is only entitled to 104 weeks of “aggregate disability payments” within a five-year period of each injury.9 This means an injured worker can only get two years of temporary disability benefits in total for each injury.

Aggregate disability payments include the one-year full salary benefits that police officers get under Labor Code section 4850.10

In other words, a California police officer can get one year of “4850 benefits” at full salary and one year of temporary disability benefits at two-thirds of your salary totaling two years of aggregate disability benefits.

Example: Bryan is a police officer injured on duty. He is off work for one year and gets the full-salary 4850 benefits. He continues to miss work for another year and gets temporary disability at two-thirds his weekly salary.

Brian is still unable to work after the two-year period and tries to claim further temporary disability benefits, saying that he is entitled to 104 weeks of temporary disability in addition to his “4850 benefits”.

He is denied another year of temporary disability because the full-salary 4850 benefits count toward the 104 weeks.

2.2 Does retirement affect “4850 benefits”?

The 4850 benefits terminate at the time of a California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS) retirement. This is the case even if you have not used up your year of benefits.11

2.3 What happens if there's a delay in the insurance company paying “4850 benefits”?

You should receive your “4850 benefits” within two weeks of being unable to work. An unreasonable delay of “4850 benefits” can be a penalty of up to 25% of the amount delayed under Labor Code Section 5814.12

Example: Nicole, a police officer, is injured on the job and taken off work by her doctor. Because she is a police officer she is eligible for 4850 benefits. She can receive full pay for one year. Based on a salary of $78,000 a year, Nicole earns $1,500 a week. As benefits are paid every two weeks, she is paid $3,000 every two weeks in 4850 benefits.

Because these benefits are not taxed, Nicole will receive more money net than if she were working.

If Nicole were not a police officer, she would only receive two-thirds of her average weekly wage, or $1,000, and be paid $2,000 every other week.

If Nicole continues to miss work after receiving one year of full-salary 4850 benefits, her benefits after the first year will be lowered to the $2,000 payments for up to another 52 weeks.

3. Medical conditions that are presumed to be work-related when you are a police officer

A California police officer is a peace officer primarily engaged in active law enforcement activities.13 Within the category of police officer, there are certain positions in which medical conditions are presumed to be work-related. Specifically, these positions include14 15 16:

  • county sheriff
  • city or other district police officer
  • harbor police
  • marshall
  • district attorney investigator
  • highway patrol
  • arson investigator

The medical conditions that are presumed to come from work include:

  • cancer17
  • pneumonia18
  • hernia19
  • heart trouble20
  • tuberculosis.21
  • a blood-borne infectious disease22
  • a biological or chemical agent that may be used as a weapon of mass destruction23
  • meningitis24
  • Lyme disease25
  • lower back injuries (if they've been a police officer for at least five years and were required to wear a duty belt.26 A duty belt is a belt for holding a gun, handcuffs, baton, or other items.27)

If a police officer develops cancer, he or she has to show that they were exposed to a carcinogen while working, and there is a reasonable link between the carcinogen and the type of cancer.28

A carcinogen is defined as anything identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).29

High blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, or an abnormal echocardiogram are examples of heart trouble.30 Therefore, high blood pressure with no other symptoms can be considered heart trouble.31

Example: A police officer develops kidney cancer after being exposed to a known carcinogen, benzene. Even though a doctor said there is no known cause for kidney cancer or a link between benzene and kidney cancer, the kidney cancer can be presumed to be from work.32

An officer can claim these injuries after they stop working. For each year of service, they have three months after they stop working to claim a work injury. This continues up to a maximum of 5 to 10 years depending upon the condition.

3.1 Can an employer claim that some of your injuries are not work related?

In a regular workers' compensation injury, the employer is only responsible for the portion of the injury caused by work.33 However in the case where one of the above medical conditions apply to a California police officer, all of the injury is presumed to be from work.34

Even if you have a pre-existing condition, there is no apportionment.35 Apportionment is a way of reducing the money you get for your injury by saying that part of it was caused by things outside of work. You can always appeal any decision as to workers compensation benefits in California

Example: Glen is a police officer. A doctor found an injury to his heart. The doctor said that some portion of his heart injury existed prior to Glen becoming a police officer. Even though this may be true, all of Glen's injury is considered to be from work. This is due to the special rules for police officers indicated above.

Glen's workers comp settlement could have been reduced by 40% if not for this rule.

4. Other rules that benefit California police officers

The spouse of a police officer who dies is eligible to continue to receive health insurance benefits. Alternatively, they can receive a lump sum survivor benefit. Also, any children can receive health benefits until they turn 21.36

A dependent of a police officer killed or totally disabled in the line of duty is also entitled to a scholarship.37

5. How do I take advantage of the special rules for police officers?

Police officers are afforded special workers compensation benefits as public employees. Insurance companies are aware of these benefits and should notify you that you qualify for them when you file a claim for California workers' compensation benefits.

However, being aware of your rights as a California police officer is important to receive the benefits you deserve. (For officers injured in Nevada, please see our page on workers compensation claims by Nevada police officers.)

LEGAL REFERENCES: 

  1. Cal. Lab. Code § 4850

  2. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212

  3. Cal. Lab. Code § 4850(b)

  4. Cal. Lab. Code § 4850(c)

  5. Cal. Lab. Code § 4850

  6. https://www.irs.gov/publications/p525

  7. Cal. Lab. Code § 4853

  8. Cal. Lab. Code § 4854

  9. Cal. Lab. Code § 4656

  10.  County of Alameda v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (Knittel) (2013) 213 Cal. App. 4th 278, 286

  11.  City of Martinez v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2000) 85 Cal. App. 4th 601, 614

  12. Gage v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2016) 6 Cal. App. 5th 1128, 1135

  13. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212.1

  14. Cal. Pen. Code § 830.1

  15. Cal. Pen. Code § 830.2(a)

  16. Cal. Pen. Code § 830.37(a)&(b)

  17. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212.1(d)

  18. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212

  19. Id.

  20. Id.

  21. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212.6

  22. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212.8

  23. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212.85

  24. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212.9

  25. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212.12

  26. Cal. Lab. Code § 3213.2

  27. Id.

  28. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212.1(b)

  29. Id.

  30. Muznik v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1975) 51 Cal. App. 3d 622, 636-637

  31. Muznik, at p. 638

  32.  City of Long Beach v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd., 126 Cal. App. 4th 298

  33. Cal. Lab. Code § 4663

  34. Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2008) 166 Cal. App. 4th 911, 920

  35. Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, at p. 917

  36. Cal. Lab. Code § 4856

  37. Cal. Lab. Code § 4709

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