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Maryland officers will retain workers' compensation benefits

Should police officers convicted of a criminal offense be allowed to keep their workers' compensation benefits? An arbitrator deciding for Montgomery County, Maryland's police force says yes, but only after officers have completed their sentence.

Last year the County Council passed legislation that strips officers of their disability pay if they've been convicted of "certain offenses." Although a county executive narrowed those offenses to felonies, the arbitrator rejected that stipulation as well, agreeing with Fraternal Order of Police union officials who called the proposal "draconian."

Consider for example, the FOP said, a scenario in which an officer in his 20s committed a minor offense that resulted in 60 days' probation. As a result of the legislation, which was set to take effect in July, he would lose a lifetime of workers' compensation benefits.

The arbitrator also agreed to the police union's proposal of a two-tiered disability pension system. In the same legislation that would have stripped compensation for offending officers, the County Council created a plan applying to injured employees who could still work. It would allow a tax-free "partial disability" retirement benefit of 52.5 percent of the employee's earnings. Employees whose injuries prevented them from working altogether would receive 70 percent. The union proposed a partial disability benefit of 60 percent, a full disability of 66.7 percent, as well as a "catastrophic" disability payout of 90 percent. All of the benefits would be tax-free.

Both of these decisions offer better workers' compensation for police officers who are injured in what is arguably a high-risk job. It would be unreasonable to expect any worker, in public safety or otherwise, to work under conditions where the risk of injury was high and the compensation for those injuries was low. Knowing that they'll be covered if an injury happens on the job means officers won't be afraid to take necessary actions to protect the community.

Source: The Washington Examiner, "Montgomery County cops can keep disability pay, arbitrator rules," Rachel Baye, April 16, 2012

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