Special Benefits for Public Employees in California Workers’ Compensation

Public employees in California working in law enforcement or firefighting can receive special benefits or take advantage of a lower standard of proof to receive workers' compensation benefits. All public employees in California receive regular workers' compensation benefits.1

The special benefits and advantages to public employees include:

  • Leave of absence benefits
    • Those that work in active law enforcement and firefighting can receive full salary for one year instead of temporary disability benefits at two-thirds of the average weekly wage
  • Special retirement benefits
  • Presumption that there is a work injury
    • Certain public employees can claim benefits and do not have to prove that work caused the following:
  • hernia
  • heart trouble
  • pneumonia
  • cancer
  • Special death benefits
    • If a police officer or firefighter dies from a work injury, the spouse and children under age 22 are entitled to benefits based on a percentage of the deceased's salary
  • Health insurance
    • A surviving spouse and children of a police officer or firefighter who dies due to a work injury are eligible for government health insurance benefits.

In this article, our California personal injury attorneys will explain:

california public employee special benefits workers comp firefighter
Public employees in California working in law enforcement or firefighting can receive special benefits or take advantage of a lower standard of proof to receive workers' compensation benefits.

1. Special benefits for certain public employees

California determined that public employees who put themselves at risk at work, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, should receive extra benefits related to work injuries.

These benefits affect the injured worker's ability to claim benefits and affect his or her family if the injured worker dies on the job.

2. Leave of absence benefits

Public employees engaged in active police or firefighting duties are entitled to one year of full salary instead of temporary disability.2 This is an extra benefit for those who have inherent risks on the job.3

Public employees not in law enforcement or firefighting are entitled to temporary disability benefits, which are only two-thirds of the injured worker's average weekly wage.

These benefits are separate from family or medical leave.4

Example: Craig is a detective and injures his back. His doctor places him on temporary disability for six months.

Craig is a public employee and in law enforcement, and he receives six months of full pay instead of temporary disability.

2.1. Does not apply to

The public employee leave of absence benefit does not apply to those employed by law enforcement agencies not engaged in law enforcement activities such as:

  • telephone operators
  • clerks
  • stenographers
  • machinists
  • mechanics

Example: Sandra works at the police station but is not a law enforcement officer. She is injured on the job and goes off work on disability.

Sandra is not entitled to her full salary. She will receive two-thirds of her average weekly wage in temporary disability benefits.

2.2. After employment is over

Leave of absence benefits do not apply if the public employee has:

  • resigned
  • retired
  • been dismissed

Example: Gary is a retired police officer. He now works in private security. He develops cancer and learns it is from work.

Gary is not entitled to full salary benefits because he has retired from police work. He is entitled to temporary disability benefits for any time he misses from work due to the injury.

3. Disability retirement

Disability retirement is when the public employee is permanently unable to continue working due to an injury. It is a separate proceeding that still comes from a work injury.

California state safety officers that are injured on the job can receive disability retirement regardless of age or time employed.5 The injured worker must be part of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) or county retirement system.6

To apply for disability benefits, the public employee must apply for disability when one of the following situations apply:

  • while still working
  • while absent from work due to military service
  • within four months of working
  • while on approved leave of absence
  • if he or she is physically or mentally incapacitated from the last date of work to the application date7

CalPERS can ask the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board to determine if there is a work injury, but cannot ask about any other finding.8

The employee will have a separate medical examination to determine this.9

Example: Tammy is an investigator with a district attorney's office. She is injured at work and applies for disability retirement.

Tammy is part of CalPERS. She is still working when applying for disability retirement.

Tammy will have a medical exam to determine if she qualifies for disability retirement.

4. Presumption of injury

Public employees engaged in police or firefighting activities do not have to prove that the following are work injuries:

  • hernia
  • heart trouble
  • pneumonia
  • cancer10

If an injured police officer or firefighter is diagnosed with any of the above conditions, it is assumed it was caused by work. Other injured workers must prove the connection between the medical condition and work.

Example: Dustin worked as a firefighter for 17 years. He then had a heart attack.

Dustin will receive California firefighters workers' compensation benefits for his heart attack because it is one of the special benefits given to certain public employees.

5. Death Benefits

Under CalPERS, certain safety officers are entitled to special death benefits for surviving family members.

The death benefit is for the spouse of the deceased as long as he or she lives and children under age 22, and it is based on a percentage of the deceased's salary.11

A member of CalPERS is not entitled to the regular workers' compensation death benefit except for the $1,000 burial expense. The only exception is that the survivors are entitled to the difference if the workers' compensation benefit is more. 12

Example: Jenny's husband was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. She can attempt to obtain police officer workers' compensation death benefits up to $320,000.

However, the benefits under CalPERS will give her a percentage of her deceased spouse's salary for the rest of her life. This will likely be more than she could have received through workers' compensation.

6. Health Insurance benefits

A surviving spouse and children of a police officer or firefighter killed at work is eligible for health insurance benefits.13

Example: Max is killed while fighting a forest fire. His wife and children can apply for the same benefits that Max would obtain for them if he were alive.

7. Public employees need to be aware of the available benefits

Regular workers' compensation attempts to compensate all injured workers in California fairly for work injuries.

In acknowledgement of the on the job risk, certain public employees are entitled to an extra level of benefits.

Public employees need to make sure these benefits are properly provided.

Call us for help...

california workers' compensation attorneys
Call us at (855) LAW-FIRM

For help with filing a workers compensation claim in California, completing workers comp forms or appealing a denial of benefits, contact us at (855) LAW-FIRM. Our firm helps police officers, firefighters and other workers to get compensation for their job-related injuries in California.


Legal References:

  1. Cal. Lab. Code 3351.

  2. Cal. Lab. Code § 4800, 4804.1, 4806, 4850.

  3. Charles v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1988) 202 Cal. App. 3d 781, 784.

  4. Cal. Lab. Code § 4850(e).

  5. Cal. Gov. Code § 21151.

  6. County of Orange v. WCAB (2010) 75 Cal. Comp. Cases 1422.

  7. Cal. Gov. Code § 21154, § 31722.

  8. Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8 § 10405.

  9. Cal. Gov. Code § 21154.

  10. Cal. Lab. Code § 3212-3213.

  11. Cal. Gov. Code § 21541.

  12. Cal. Lab. Code § 4707.

  13. Cal. Gov. Code § 22820.

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