What Do You Think: Could Correction Officer Receive Violence Pay for Carrying Footlocker during Hostage Situation?

23 Aug, 2022 Frank Ferreri

                               

Boston, MA (WorkersCompensation.com) –  While it’s unquestionable that correction officers face the threat of violence routinely at work, just when that threat becomes a reality entitling an officer to increased benefits can be a tough question.

As a Massachusetts court recently had to wrestle with, is responding to a violent scene the same as facing violence in the workplace?

During a hostage situation in which an inmate took another hostage by holding a razor blade to his neck, an officer at a correctional facility was called to help carry a metal footlocker downstairs so that its contents could be used to address the hostage situation.

While carrying the footlocker, the officer experienced a shoulder injury, which left him unable to work. The officer began receiving biweekly workers’ compensation benefits but did not receive assault pay. Between the time the officer depleted his accrued sick leave and his termination, the officer redeemed a total of $14,899.79. For the same period, his assault pay would have been $49,780.84.

In the officer’s case for assault pay, which is also called violence pay, a judge awarded him $173,723.89 in damages, which prompted his county employer to appeal.

In Massachusetts, additional compensation is available to correction officers to close the gap between workers’ compensation benefits and an employee’s salary if the employee experiences bodily injury as a result of inmate violence during the course of the officer’s duties.

To be entitled to assault pay, a correction officer must show:

  • Bodily injury
  • Resulting from an act of violence
  • Committed by a prisoner
  • Who was in the officer’s custody
  • Resulting in the officer being entitled to workers’ compensation

Did the officer experience an injury that would entitle him to assault pay?

A. Yes. Because of the inmates violent act, the officer carried the footlocker, which caused his shoulder injury.

B. No. The injury happened while the officer was carrying equipment and did not result from an act of violence by a prisoner.

If you picked A, you agreed with the court in Howell v. Sheriff of Essex County, No. 21-P-397 (Mass. Ct. App. 08/19/22), which reasoned that the officer didn’t have to be in the presence of the violent inmate when he injured his shoulder, nor did the inmate need to direct his violent act at the officer, for the injury to have “resulted from” the inmate’s act of violence.

“Guided by both the remedial nature of the statutes and by precent, we conclude that there is no genuine issue of material fact that the [officer’s] injury “resulted from” an inmate’s act of violence, entitling the [officer] to assault pay,” the court wrote.

Additionally, the court ruled that the officer’s assault pay should not be offset by the accrued sick pay he used.

“Allowing employers to offset assault pay with an employee's accrued sick leave credits would remove their incentive to comply promptly with the statutes,” the court reasoned.

As a result, the court upheld the lower court’s ruling in the officer’s favor.

Forms, email updates, legal, regulatory, and compliance information from Massachusetts and 52 other jurisdictions across the U.S. can be found on WorkCompResearch.com.


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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Frank encourages everyone to consider helping out the Kind Souls Foundation and Kids' Chance of America.

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