McGrath: Wage Benefits for Injured Police Officers Should Encourage Return to Work
HELENA — In an opinion released Tuesday, Attorney General Mike McGrath concluded that cities have an obligation to pay officers injured in the line of duty for an aggregate of one year. The opinion held that the one-year period may include numerous periods of disability that total one year, even if the duration of the disability has been interrupted by a return to work and extends beyond a calendar year from the date the officer was injured.
Under Montana law, when an officer is injured in the line of duty and cannot immediately return to work, the city is obligated to make up the difference between what the officer receives in workers’ compensation and his or her net salary, for a period not to exceed one year. Butte-Silver Bow County Attorney Robert McCarthy requested the opinion, asking McGrath to determine how that one-year period should be calculated.
McGrath said that the opinion supports the legislature’s intent to encourage an early return to work by allowing an employee aggregate periods of disability totaling up to one year, even if the duration of the disability is interrupted by a return to work.
Otherwise, if an injured officer returned to work on light or regular duty and the original disability then returned, he or she would have forfeited any further wage benefits under the statute. This would put officers in an unfair position, having to choose between the opportunity to return to work and the intended wage protection offered by the law.