When the shooting started at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1, off-duty police officers at the scene became a heroic part of the effort to get concert-goers to safety. Hundreds of off-duty officers from California were attending the festival, and many of them were injured in the course of their efforts. Now they are finding that their home agencies are denying their workers’ compensation claims due to the way California’s laws are worded.
The reason California officers’ workers’ comp claims are being denied
The issue for the injured California officers is that California’s labor code specifies that workers’ compensation coverage only extends to off-duty injuries that occur within California. Section 3600.2(a) of the California Labor Code provides that benefits will be provided to any off-duty officer who is injured while engaged “in the apprehension or attempted apprehension of law violators or suspected law violators, or protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of peace anywhere in this state . . .” (emphasis added). Orange County has rejected four officers’ claims on grounds that the statute leaves no room for covering actions outside the state, and other jurisdictions are weighing the issue.
Litigation is expected to follow, and members of California’s legislature are discussing bills to extend coverage to the injured officers. There are concerns that the proposed “fixes” would only cover short-term care, and not things like long term disability.
Workers’ compensation considerations for off-duty Nevada officers
Nevada’s workers’ compensation laws do not have the kind of geographical limitation that California’s laws impose. To receive workers’ compensation benefits for an injury a Nevada police officer is required only to show that the injury “arose out of and in the course of his or her employment.” NRS 616C.150. The central question for first responders, then, is whether their off-duty actions to protect the public fall within the scope of their employment duties.
Officers should take a moment to look at their department’s specific policies and collective bargaining agreements to understand how off-duty situations are defined. For example, the section 2.37.01 of the North Las Vegas Police Department Policy Manual provides that off-duty officers “will always be subject . . . to emergency requests for assistance from citizens.” Under this language, an off-duty officer responding to an emergency is acting under department policy and therefore any injury suffered as a consequence would likely be “in the course of employment.”
An important question for North Las Vegas officers is whether responding to emergencies outside the department’s jurisdiction still qualifies. From a public policy standpoint, no law enforcement agency wants to discourage its first responders from offering assistance when their skills and training can help keep the public safe. But as the Route 91 aftermath has shown, an injured officer can find recovering for off-duty injuries involves an unexpected legal fight.
GGRM serves the Las Vegas police community
In these complex and dangerous times, our police officers can face difficult questions that don’t have clear answers, especially in emergencies. For more than 40 years the attorneys at GGRM have served the legal needs of the Las Vegas first responder community. Our attorneys are happy to talk to officers about how workers’ compensation covers off-duty situations. Call us at 702-388-4476, or request a consultation through our website.