Light Duty Work Need Not Carry Premium Pay

David Lade is a deputy sheriff for Nevada County, California. Since 2004, Lade was assigned to a night shift, and received a 5.0% shift differential. The differential was paid regardless of whether he worked, took vacation, used sick leave, or received holiday pay.

In August 2011, Lade suffered an on-the-job injury, and was off work until late September, when he returned to work at full duty with no restrictions. In late January 2012, however, Lade was placed on modified duty at the direction of his physician. While Lade was on light duty, he was assigned to day shift, and the County stopped paying him the shift differential.

California Labor Code Section 4850 guarantees certain public safety employees who are disabled from an on-the-job injury “a leave of absence while so disabled without loss of salary in lieu of temporary disability payments.” Lade’s case raised the issue of whether this provision applies to guarantee no loss of salary to an employee who has returned to work, albeit on modified duty.

The California Court of Appeals upheld the County’s decision to terminate Lade’s shift differential. The Court found that “by its plain terms, Section 4850 provides for a leave of absence at full salary in lieu of temporary disability payments for public safety employees who become disabled in the course of employment. Lade claims that as long as he was working modified, light duty on the day shift, he was – for purposes of section 4850 – on a leave of absence from his regular night shift, and he was therefore entitled under the statute to no loss of salary as a result of his day shift work.

“We do not believe Section 4850 is reasonably susceptible to the interpretation Lade advances. A leave of absence is a temporary absence from employment with the intent to return. This is the common sense understanding of the term. Applying this common sense understanding here, Lade could not have been on a leave of absence when he was actually back at work for the Sheriff’s Department, even if he was working light duty on a different shift.

“Here, the Legislature provided that a public safety worker like Lade, when disabled, is entitled to a leave of absence at full salary instead of temporary disability payments. There is nothing in Section 4850 that guarantees a worker anything when he is no longer on a leave of absence and is instead back at work. Moreover, there is nothing in Section 4850 that can be reasonably understood to mean that a leave of absence is anything less than being absent from one’s employment.”

County of Nevada v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, 167 Cal. Rptr.3d 455 (Cal. App. 2014).