Trooper's sick wages can be offset by temporary total disability benefits
Yustin v. Department of Public Safety, No. 09-294 (Vt. 02/23/11).
Ruling: The Vermont Supreme Court held that an employer properly offset the sick wages it paid to a worker during his period of temporary total disability from his disability benefits.
What it means: In Vermont, an employer can offset sick wages paid to a worker during a period of temporary total disability against workers' compensation disability benefits it is required to pay for the same period.
Summary: A state trooper suffered a shoulder injury while exercising in preparation for a physical fitness exam. He underwent surgery and was out of work for four months. The employer disputed whether the injury was work-related and denied coverage. The trooper used sick leave to receive full wages during the period he was out of work and challenged the denial of benefits. The trooper was later awarded TTD benefits in his workers' compensation claim. The employer restored the trooper's sick leave by the amount of disability benefits owed, pursuant to a state policy. The trooper challenged this method of payment, asserting that he was entitled to a separate payment of benefits from which he could pay his attorney's fees. The Vermont Supreme Court held that the employer could offset the trooper's sick wages against the TTD benefits it was ordered to pay for the same time period.
The court said the employer's action was consistent with the compensatory purpose of workers' compensation. The court also noted the clear and strong policy against the double recovery of benefits. Although the workers' compensation law did not contain a provision specifically authorizing an offset against disability benefits for sick leave paid for the same period, provisions are not uncommon in other states. The court said that by paying the sick leave benefits, the employer already paid a portion of the compensation ordered.
A dissenting judge opined that the employer was violating the specific order to pay benefits to the trooper. The judge also noted that in the future, no attorneys will take cases against the state involving temporary benefits because there is a significant chance the attorney will not be paid.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
March 31, 2011
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