We hold that, under Labor Code
On August 20, 1991, Rocky D. Ritchie (petitioner), then a police detective for the respondent City of Bakersfield (the City), sustained an admitted injury to his back. In February 1992, after approximately six months of physical therapy, petitioner asked to be returned to work on light duty. Before consenting to this request, the City required that petitioner be tested by a physician selected by the City. During the testing, petitioner sustained a further back injury. His condition was thereafter considered permanent and stationary. On April 26 or 27, 1992, petitioner was retired under PERS industrial disability retirement and began receiving retirement benefits.
Because petitioner was unable to return to his usual occupation, rehabilitation services were initiated. On April 27, 1992, petitioner was evaluated and declared suitable for such services. Petitioner wanted to become an attorney and requested a rehabilitation plan which provided for four years of study at a local law school. The anticipated cost was $16,917.
The City admitted liability for rehabilitation. However, a dispute arose concerning (1) the length of time for which the City was required to provide rehabilitation services; and (2) petitioner's claim for a vocational rehabilitation maintenance allowance (VRMA) subsequent to the date of his retirement. On October 14, 1992, the parties attended a formal conference with a rehabilitation consultant from the rehabilitation unit. (§ 139.5.) As of that date, petitioner was already attending law school. The City agreed to contribute the cost of two of the projected four years of study, but petitioner wanted the cost of three years, VRMA from the date of his retirement to the date of the formal conference, and reinstatement of VRMA during the portion of the schooling to be paid for by the City.
The parties were unable to consensually resolve the controversy. The rehabilitation consultant therefore issued an opinion on December 22, 1992. Relying upon Gorman v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1982) 133 Cal.App.3d 998 [184 Cal.Rptr. 406], the consultant ruled that under section 4853, VRMA benefits terminate upon the effective date of PERS retirement if the employee is a member of the public sector.
Petitioner appealed the consultant's decision to respondent Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). Trial was held on March 18, 1993, and further proceedings took place before the workers' compensation judge
Petitioner moved for reconsideration. The WCJ recommended denial of the motion, again relying upon sections 4850 and 4853. In due course, the WCAB adopted and incorporated the report and recommendation of the WCJ and denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration. The instant petition for a writ of review followed.
Petitioner contends he is entitled to receive both his PERS retirement pension and VRMA so long as he is engaged in qualified vocational rehabilitation. The precise theory upon which petitioner relies to support this assertion is not altogether apparent from his briefs. He seems to take the position that because temporary disability indemnity (VRTD) and maintenance allowance indemnity (VRMA) are different, the fact that VRTD terminates upon retirement does not mean that VRMA also terminates upon retirement. We conclude that VRMA is a form of temporary disability indemnity and, as such, is not payable after the retirement of a city police officer under PERS.
I. The Basic Compensation Scheme
A. Disability Indemnity
Once the employee's condition has become permanent and stationary, he or she is entitled to permanent disability indemnity; these benefits are
B. Vocational Rehabilitation
C. Police Officers
Sections 4850 and 4853 give additional compensation benefits to injured peace officers such as petitioner. Under the operation of these two sections, a city police officer who is a PERS member is entitled to a leave of absence without loss of salary, in lieu of TD or maintenance allowance (MA), for one year or until retirement on a disability pension (§ 4850).
Payment of the vocational rehabilitation maintenance allowance, or VRMA is authorized by section 139.5, subdivision (c).
Effective January 1, 1975, section 139.5 was amended to, among other things, (1) require establishment of a rehabilitation unit, (2) make rehabilitation programs mandatory for employers and their compensation carriers, and (3) expressly authorize the continuation of temporary disability indemnity during rehabilitation. (Webb v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1980) 28 Cal.3d 621, 625, fn. 2 [170 Cal.Rptr. 32, 620 P.2d 618]; 2 Hanna, supra, at § 35.03, pp. 35-10-35-11.) Such temporary disability benefits received in conjunction with a VR program are often referred to as "VRTD," to distinguish them from medical TD received outside a rehabilitation program. (Jimenez v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 1 Cal. App.4th at p. 64.)
The purpose underlying the Legislature's 1975 modification of section 139.5 to extend temporary disability benefits during rehabilitation was two-fold: (1) to encourage employees to enroll in rehabilitation training by maintaining financial support during the rehabilitative process; and (2) to motivate employers to make rehabilitation available promptly and thereby enable the employee to reenter the work force as soon as practicable. (Webb v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 28 Cal.3d at p. 628.)
The Legislature originally envisioned that vocational rehabilitation services would be provided to the injured employee before his or her disability became permanent and stationary. (Webb v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd.,
B. VRMA as a form of TD
This conclusion is supported by the legislative history of the relevant statutes. As noted above, section 139.5 was rewritten in 1989. (See Stats. 1989, ch. 892, § 24, pp. 3002-3003 (Assem. Bill No. 276); Stats. 1989, ch. 893, § 1, pp. 3040-3041 (Sen. Bill No. 47).) In pertinent part, the Enrolled Bill Report (Assem. Bill No. 276 (1989-1990 Reg. Sess.) as amended Sept. 15, 1989) took the position the bill "[r]evises the Temporary Disability benefit (TDI) for persons enrolled in vocational rehabilitation. For persons injured on or after January 1, 1990, and after the medical condition becomes permanent and stationary, but while the person is enrolled in vocational rehabilitation, a maintenance allowance, in lieu of TDI, will be paid." (Italics added.)
A memorandum written by a deputy director of the Legislative Liaison Office of the Department of Employment Development, dated September 22,
Sections 139.5 and 4850 were amended by Statutes 1990, chapter 1550, sections 18 and 44, respectively. The modifications were contained in Assembly Bill No. 2910 (1989-1990 Reg. Sess.). In part, the bill added the phrase, "or maintenance allowance payments under Section 139.5," to section 4850. (Stats. 1990, ch. 1550, § 44.) In a letter to then-Governor Deukmejian dated September 10, 1990, Assemblyman Margolin, the bill's author, described the measure as a "cleanup bill" to the 1989 Workers' Compensation Reform Act. According to Assemblyman Margolin, one of the provisions of the bill would "[p]rohibit injured workers from supplementing their vocational rehabilitation temporary disability (or `maintenance allowance') payments with SDI benefits except in very limited circumstances."
A similar observation was made in the Enrolled Bill Report prepared by the Employment Development Department of the Health and Welfare Agency, regarding Assembly Bill No. 2910 (1989-1990 Reg. Sess.). The report states in pertinent part: "Prior to last year's legislation, TD benefits were paid to workers receiving vocational rehabilitation services. Last year's bill created a new category of benefits, maintenance allowance. These benefits are paid when an injured worker's condition becomes permanent and stationary, and the worker chooses to enroll in a vocational rehabilitation program. These new benefits are at a lower rate than TD benefits. These lower rates were intended to provide an incentive to the injured worker to quickly complete vocational rehabilitation. However, the legislation did not explicitly state that maintenance allowance benefits were either a form of TD or that SDI benefits could not be issued concurrently. Without a clarification in statute, the SDI program would be liable for paying SDI while an individual is receiving maintenance allowance benefits. Although this was not the intent of the legislation, current statute creates a situation where an
To remedy the problem, section 2629 of the Unemployment Insurance Code was amended to read:
"(a) Except as provided in this section, an individual is not eligible for disability benefits under this part for any day of unemployment and disability for which he or she has received, or is entitled to receive, `other benefits' in the form of cash payments.
"(b) `Other benefits,' as used in this section and Section 2629.1, means either of the following:
"(1) Temporary disability indemnity under a workers' compensation law of this state or of any other state or of the federal government including, for purposes of this code and Sections 4903 and 4904 of the Labor Code, a maintenance allowance paid pursuant to Section 139.5 of the Labor Code.
"(2) Temporary disability benefits under any employer's liability law of this state or of any other state or of the federal government.
".... .... .... .... .... .... ....
"(c) Except for a maintenance allowance paid pursuant to Section 139.5 of the Labor Code, if these `other benefits' are less than the amount an individual would otherwise receive as disability benefits under this part, he or she shall be entitled to receive, for that day, if otherwise eligible, disability benefits under this part reduced by the amount of these `other benefits.'
"(d) An individual shall be entitled to receive, for any day, if otherwise eligible, disability benefits under this part reduced by the amount of the maintenance allowance and permanent disability indemnity if both of the following conditions are met:
"(2) The sum of the maintenance allowance and permanent disability indemnity is less than the amount an individual would otherwise receive as disability benefits under this part." (Italics added.)
We find nothing in this history which discloses an intent on the part of the Legislature to treat VRMA any differently than VRTD for purposes of sections 4850 and 4853. To the contrary, we find an unmistakable expression of legislative intent that VRMA be treated as a form of TD, payable after the injured worker's condition has become permanent and stationary and while he or she is enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program.
The references in the legislative materials to maintenance allowance as a "new" benefit does not change our mind; placed in context, it signifies only that there did not previously exist a benefit by that name. The fact that the rate at which VRMA is payable, before any allowable supplementation with permanent disability benefits, is set at a lower maximum than TD benefits merely demonstrates a desire to encourage the employee without permanent disability benefits to complete rehabilitation as soon as possible.
C. Termination of VRMA Upon PERS Retirement
The cases decided before the 1990 modifications to sections 139.5 and 4850 were clear that TD indemnity terminated upon retirement of the officer under PERS, whether or not the officer was enrolled in a rehabilitation program. In State Compensation Ins. Fund v. Workmen's Comp. Appeals Bd. (1972) 26 Cal.App.3d 200 [103 Cal.Rptr. 29], the question on appeal was whether a police officer who retired on a disability pension under the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS, now PERS
The Court of Appeal reversed. It held that the officer's entitlement to receive TD expired upon his effective date of retirement. (State Compensation Ins. Fund v. Workmen's Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 26 Cal. App.3d at p. 204.) The court concluded: "If full salary `in lieu of temporary disability payments' ceases upon retirement under section 4850, temporary disability payments must, in all logic, also cease upon retirement under section 4853." (26 Cal. App.3d at p. 204.) Therefore, an award of TD indemnity to a city policeman could not extend beyond the effective date of retirement on a disability pension under SERS (PERS). (Ibid.)
In Gorman v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 133 Cal.App.3d 998, after a police officer's injury resulted in permanent partial disability, he took a one-year leave of absence with pay under section 4850 and thereafter was granted a disability retirement. A rehabilitation plan was subsequently initiated. The employer did not oppose the petitioner's right to participate in VR or receive other benefits, but did object to the assertion he was entitled to continue to receive TD indemnity payments under section 139.5, subdivision (c) in addition to disability retirement payments.
"Petitioner acknowledges that generally a safety employee's right to temporary disability benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act terminates on the effective date of his retirement pursuant to section 4853. His principal argument is that what he calls `rehabilitation maintenance' is something other than temporary disability benefit payments under the Workers' Compensation Act; that the purpose of `rehabilitation maintenance' is different from that of temporary medical disability payments under the act; and that section 4853 terminating the right of a safety employee to temporary disability benefit payments under the act on the effective date of retirement should not be read as terminating a safety employee's right to receive `rehabilitation maintenance' payments.
"We think the reference to `rehabilitation maintenance' serves little purpose but to muddy the waters. If by that term the petitioner has reference not only to the continued temporary disability indemnity payments referred to in subdivision (c) of section 139.5 but also the additional living expenses referred to in the statute,[
"We think petitioner is correct in asserting that the purpose of continuing temporary disability benefit payments during the course of rehabilitation serves a somewhat different purpose than the payment of temporary disability benefits in the first instance. Obviously, the purpose of continued payments during rehabilitation is to provide sustenance for the employee during the rehabilitative process. However, that statutory purpose is in no way thwarted by the ruling and order of the Board that a safety employee who has retired for disability and is receiving disability retirement payments is not also entitled to continued temporary disability payments. Sustenance is provided the employee during the rehabilitative process by the disability retirement payments being received by him.
"In any event, the Legislature in this instance has by the language it used made its intention in respect to this problem quite clear. It did not employ a new term for the temporary support to be paid an injured worker during the course of a program of rehabilitation. It specifically, and no doubt deliberately, spoke of the payments to be received as a continuation of temporary
"And the meaning of section 4853 is perfectly clear: when a safety employee has received a disabling industrial injury and the disability continues beyond one year, the employee `shall thereafter be subject as to disability indemnity to the provisions of this division [he or she shall receive temporary disability benefits up to the maximum number of weeks allowed] ... during the remainder of the period of said disability or until the effective date of his retirement under the Public Employees' Retirement Act ....' [Citation.] In other words, upon the effective date of his or her retirement under the Public Employees' Retirement Act, the right to temporary disability benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act terminates. [Citation.]" (Gorman v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 133 Cal. App.3d at pp. 1001-1002.)
We cannot improve upon Gorman's language or reasoning; we find it persuasive and applicable by analogy here.
After Gorman was decided, the Legislature itself "muddied the waters" by adopting the term "maintenance allowance" to identify the "new" benefits extended by the 1989 amendment to section 139.5. Although the Legislature subsequently added a reference to the "maintenance allowance" in section 4850, it did not also comparably amend section 4853 or otherwise clarify the language in that statute regarding "the provisions of this division...." (Italics added.) However, "`[i]t is a generally accepted principle that in adopting legislation the Legislature is presumed to have had knowledge of existing domestic judicial decisions and to have enacted and amended statutes in the light of such decisions as have a direct bearing upon them.'" (Estate of McDill (1975) 14 Cal.3d 831, 839 [122 Cal.Rptr. 754, 537 P.2d 874].) Thus, we can presume that when it amended section 4850, the Legislature was aware of both Gorman and State Compensation Ins. Fund v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 43 [152 Cal.Rptr. 153].
In examining the various relevant statutes, we are obliged to assess them together and give effect to each, in the context of the workers' compensation
Denial of postretirement VRMA benefits does not deny petitioner rehabilitative services. The City has admitted liability for rehabilitation, although there is still a dispute over the length and nature of the rehabilitation plan. It also appears petitioner will be eligible to receive the additional living expenses, if any, referred to in subdivision (c) of section 139.5. (Cf. Gorman v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 133 Cal. App.3d at p. 1001.)
III. Lack of Discrimination
The statute at issue in Long Beach, however, infringed upon a fundamental interest, the employees' right to privacy. (Long Beach City Employees Assn. v. City of Long Beach, supra, 41 Cal.3d at p. 948.)
"Petitioner's theory not only defies the clearly expressed intent of the Legislature, it also assumes, as its major premise, that an economic benefit which the Legislature confers upon one group of public employees must, as a matter of constitutional law, be made available to another public employee who is able to persuade the appropriate tribunal that his employment is comparable.
"In enacting a workers' compensation law, the Legislature has broad power to classify employees in relation to the benefits provided. `It is the duty of the Legislature to determine whether the facts justify such a classification and the burden of the challenger to show that the legislative conclusion is arbitrary. [Citation.] ... "Wide discretion is vested in the Legislature in making the classification and every presumption is in favor of the validity of the statute; the decision of the Legislature as to what is a sufficient distinction to warrant the classification will not be overthrown by the courts unless it is palpably arbitrary and beyond a rational doubt erroneous."' [Citation.]
"This same broad power of classification, and the presumption in favor of the Legislature's exercise of its discretion, apply to other laws governing the terms and conditions of public employment. [Citations.]"
Petitioner has not called our attention to any authority which requires the Legislature to set his benefits by reference to the benefits received by a different group of peace officers.
The order denying reconsideration is affirmed.
Stone (W.A.), Acting P.J., and Thaxter, J., concurred.
Petitioner's application for review by the Supreme Court was denied August 11, 1994.
Section 4850 affords an extra benefit for employees who incur the risks of active law enforcement. (1 Hanna, supra, at § 3.114, p. 3-93.) It contemplates a hiatus between the onset of disability and disability retirement; its purpose is to permit the injured officer to receive his or her full salary during the period between the employer's determination that the officer is disabled and commencement of the disability pension. (Boyd v. City of Santa Ana (1971) 6 Cal.3d 393, 398 [99 Cal.Rptr. 38, 491 P.2d 830].) Payments made pursuant to section 4850 are considered workers' compensation benefits, not salary. (6 Cal.3d at p. 397.)
On the other hand, these new provisions can be seen as simply evincing a desire to gain control over spiraling workers' compensation costs and to encourage the injured worker to enroll in rehabilitation as soon as possible. This construction is supported by the portion of subdivision (c) which states: "The administrative director shall adopt regulations to ensure that the continued receipt of vocational rehabilitation maintenance allowance benefits is dependent upon the injured worker's regular and consistent attendance at, and participation in, his or her vocational rehabilitation program."