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Annals of Workers Comp: Taking "Compensation" Out of Workers Compensation?
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Annals of Workers Comp: Taking "Compensation" Out of Workers Compensation?

For nearly 20 years Brian Benoit worked as an EMT for the city of Boston. In September 2011 he injured his ankle while transporting a patient and went out on workers comp. A year later he was indicted for prior misuse of controlled substances intended for ambulance patients; the indictment listed 73 counts of criminal misconduct. As a result, he was suspended without pay, under the City of Boston policy that states employees "shall not receive any compensation or salary during the period of suspension."

Benoit appealed to the Division of Insurance, which ordered resumption of his indemnity benefits. The City appealed and prevailed in Superior Court. Meanwhile, the criminal case was resolved: in August of 2015 Benoit pled guilty to one felony and 17 misdemeanor charges. At the same time, his appeal of the denial of his indemnity benefits reached the state's Supreme Court.

What is "compensation"?

The Supreme Court cites the state statute governing suspension of municipal employees, where the legislature defined "compensation" as "any money, thing of value or economic benefit conferred on or received by any person in return for services rendered." The court concludes that workers' compensation benefits are not "compensation" as defined in the suspension statute, because they are not payments made "in return for services rendered." When you are out of work and collecting indemnity for an injury, you are not providing services for your employer.

The court goes on to remind us of the "grand bargain" that is workers comp:

"The reciprocal exchange that occurs in the workers' compensation context is not between services and benefits, but between the waived right to sue the employer in tort for injuries and the guarantee of benefits when injured... the workers' compensation act does not implicate the employer-employee relationship -- it concerns the relationship between an employee and her insurer."

As with so many words, the term "compensation" has more than one meaning. "Compensation" may refer to the money received by an employee as salary or wages - compensation for services rendered. But compensation can also mean "something, typically money, awarded to someone as a recompense for loss, injury, or suffering" - a definition which includes workers comp indemnity.

Thus "compensation" remains firmly embedded in workers compensation, and Brian Benoit can hold onto his indemnity benefits, despite his criminal activity. He was injured on the job and is entitled to compensation until his body is fully healed.

Jon Coppelman
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant

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