Case name: Espinoza v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, No. B239438 (Cal. Ct. App. 02/05/13, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the California Court of Appeal held that an inmate in a county jail was not an employee of the county while he was working as a cook in the jail.
What it means: In California, inmates in a county jail who work in the jail are not considered employees of the county entitled to workers' compensation.
An inmate of a county jail was working as a cook in the jail when he sustained an injury to his left shoulder. The inmate sought workers' compensation benefits. The parties agreed that if he was found to be the county's employee, the injury arose in the course and scope of employment. An order by the county board of supervisors stated that inmates in the county jail could be compelled to perform labor under the direction of a county official. The order also stated that no inmate engaged in labor is considered an employee of the county or come within the workers' compensation law. The California Court of Appeal held that the inmate was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits.
The court concluded that the inmate was not performing work voluntarily but that he was required to work as a condition of his incarceration. With a county policy that required jail inmates to work, inmates were not in a position to volunteer to work.
The court also pointed out that the county order precluded the establishment of an employment relationship. If the order did not exist, the court explained that it would lead to the "highly undesirable result" of leaving some inmates in the workers' compensation system and some outside of it, leaving the county with an unpredictable financial exposure.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
May 21, 2013
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