Sunday, June 18, 2017

In the line of duty

Last week’s shootings at a ball field in Northern Virginia remind us of the danger that our law enforcement officers (LEOs) can encounter in the most innocent of settings.

The amazing people who work in public safety, LEOs, fire-rescue providers, and animal control officers, make it possible for us to go about our daily lives with little thought to “what if?” Our LEOs, who pin targets over their hearts before going to work, seem especially vulnerable these days.

Clearly, they don’t do what they do for the money, or even glory, but because they want to help people. We owe them, at the very least, every possible support should they become injured on the job.

At their June 6 meeting, Goochland Supervisors revised county policy on worker’s compensation supplementation for deputies.

The revision, initiated by Board Chair Ned Creasey, District 3, was sparked by a county deputy, injured on the job, whose worker’s compensation benefits expired before the deputy was able to return to work. The result was an unexpectedly shrunken paycheck, which placed hardship on the deputy’s family.

After quite a bit of discussion, the Supervisors voted to adopt, as policy, as section of state law that permits sheriff’s deputies to use accrued leave to supplement worker’s compensation payments. This applies only to sworn officers.

Staff will report back to the Board within 60 days with cost analysis for extending this policy to all county employees, or just public services employees, whose jobs place them at greater risk of workplace injury.

An initial policy revision that included fire-rescue and animal control employees was rejected after Susan Lascolette, District 1, said it was discriminatory because it did not treat county employees the same. “I want to get to yes on this, but I believe that it is bad public policy to craft changes to remedy a specific situation.”

County Administrator John Budesky said that existing county worker’s compensation policy, which he followed, does not permit any employees to use accrued leave to supplement their payments.

Creasey contended that the county spends a great deal of money training public safety employees and they should be made whole if injured on the job.

Director of Human Resources Kelly Parrish said that public safety employees are treated differently, citing the Line of Duty Act, and have greater difficulty obtaining supplemental insurance due to the nature of their work. Creating light duty assignments as transition between injury and regular work tasks for them is also difficult.

Creasey said he would favor extending the supplement option to all county employees, contending that there have been few on the job injuries and that the cost would be manageable.

Budesky said that the county’s worker’s comp premiums are experience-based on the previous three years. He also said that the county’s insurers advised against expanding supplementation.

Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew contended that state law is clear on the matter, and the deputy in question will be made whole.

As adopted, the new policy will address the pending situation. The supervisors will revisit the matter in the next two months with an eye toward adopting a more comprehensive policy.

During a budget presentation earlier this year, Parrish said that the county’s most expensive assets, its employees, walk out the door every night and it’s administration’s job to get them back the next morning. Finding a way to help employees injured at work pay their bills until they are fit for duty is a big part of that notion.

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