Employer Cannot Deny Firefighter On-Duty Injury Pay Pending Resolution Of Workers’ Compensation Dispute

The collective bargaining agreement between Local 1670 of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the City of St. Joseph, Missouri contains a provision requiring the City to make on-duty injury payments to firefighters who suffer work-related injuries.

On October 12, 2005, a firefighter was injured on duty. Later, while at home on December 19, 2005, the firefighter suffered an aggravation of the injury. When the firefighter’s request for duty-injury pay for the period between December 20, 2005 and March 20, 2006 was rejected by the employer, Local 1670 challenged the employer’s decision through the grievance procedure.

The City argued before an arbitrator that since the firefighter had a workers’ compensation claim pending for the December 19 injury, the question of duty-injury pay should wait until the conclusion of the workers’ compensation proceedings. The Arbitrator disagreed. The Arbitrator observed that a December 20 note from the firefighter’s physician was “one of a series of reports concerning the firefighter, who has an undisputed re-injury to his back on October 12, 2005, and was in the process of recovery, sufficiently recovered for his doctor to recommend him back to work on November 28 without restrictions. However, he was not so recovered as to be free of recurring symptoms or of the need for treatment.”

The Arbitrator concluded that the injury at the firefighter’s home was a continuation of the October work-related injury, and qualified for the duty-injury pay under the contract.

While the Arbitrator had some sympathy for the City’s position that the ultimate resolution of whether the December 19 incident was a compensable injury should be through the workers’ compensation system, the Arbitrator ultimately held that the collective bargaining agreement provided independent rights from those under the workers’ compensation system. As such, the Arbitrator held that the firefighter was immediately entitled to the duty-injury pay.

City of St. Joseph, Missouri and IAFF, Local 1670, LAIG 6532 (Kerner, 2007).

This article appears in the February 2008 issue