What Do You Think: Did Injury Sustained at Salvation Army Warehouse Spell Benefits for Convicted Forger?

21 Dec, 2023 Chris Parker

                               

San Jose, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) -- A worker is generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits from his employer when he is injured at work. But what happens when the worker is a convicted felon who is working for a nonprofit in lieu of going to prison? Is the nonprofit his “employer?”

A California case involving a man who was inclined both to use drugs and forge documents–and possibly at the same time–addresses that issue.

After his forgery conviction, the claimant didn’t want to go to prison, so he accepted an offer to instead enter a Salvation Army residential rehabilitation program to address his drug addiction. The catch was that he would have to stay there six months and engage in “work therapy.” The therapy involved toiling in the Salvation Army’s warehouse. The claimant worked in the warehouse five or six days a week alongside others working there in lieu of prison as well as individuals receiving hourly pay. He did not receive a paycheck. He did, however, receive small weekly “gratuities” which he could use to purchase items from the Salvation Army Store.

While working in the warehouse, the claimant was injured. He filed a workers’ compensation claim, which the Salvation Army denied. The Workers’ Compensation Board also denied the claim, on the basis that the Salvation Army was not his employer. The claimant challenged the Board’s decision in court. The court explained that a claimant may obtain workers’ compensation benefits only from his “employer.” In California, the workers’ compensation act states: “As used in this division, `employer' excludes the following:
(a) Any person while acting solely as the sponsor of a bowling team.
(b) Any private, nonprofit organization while acting solely as the sponsor of a person who,
as a condition of sentencing by a superior or municipal court, is performing services for the
organization."

Was the Salvation Army the claimant’s employer?
A. Yes. It may have been sponsoring him, but it was also his employer because it was giving him some remuneration and he was working alongside paid workers.
B. No. It was sponsoring him so that he could enter a residential program in lieu of going to
prison.

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in Velasques v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, 2d Civil No. B321638 (Cal. Ct. App. 12/05/23), which held that the Salvation Army was not the claimant’s employer.

The court found that the Board correctly concluded that the Salvation Army was sponsoring the claimant, who was performing services as a condition of his sentencing. Thus, the statute excluded the Salvation Army as an employer with respect to the claimant.

The court rejected the claimant’s argument that the Salvation Army was not acting “solely” as his sponsor, but also as his employer. The applicable provision of the Act, the court noted, did not include the word “solely.” Thus, it was sufficient that the organization sponsored him.

Nor was it relevant that the superior court did not order him to perform public service or community service in lieu of a jail sentence, but instead to complete a residential treatment program. “The distinction drawn by Velasquez between court-ordered rehabilitation and court-ordered community service does not appear in the statute,” the court wrote.

The court affirmed the Board’s denial of the claimant’s bid for workers’ compensation benefits.


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