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SJC says defendant entitled to job benefit

Government workers suspended without pay while facing criminal charges can collect workers’ compensation benefits while their pay and fringe benefits are on hold, the state’s highest court ruled unanimously Tuesday.

The Supreme Judicial Court said the 1972 suspension law bans workers facing criminal charges from receiving “compensation” from their government employer.

In contrast, workers’ compensation is an insurance policy — not compensation — and employees must receive those benefits, which can include weekly payments and coverage of medical bills, the high court said.

“Because workers’ compensation benefits do not constitute compensation for purposes of the suspension statute, that statute accordingly does not proscribe the receipt of such benefits by suspended employees,’’ Justice Barbara A. Lenk wrote for the unanimous court.

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The ruling came in the case of Brian Benoit, a former paramedic for Boston Emergency Medical Services who admitted in Suffolk Superior Court in 2015 that he had tampered with medications on city ambulances during the summer of 2011.

Benoit on Sept. 5. 2011, suffered a “significant ankle injury” while moving a patient to an ambulance.

He was covered by workers’ compensation for about a year, until the City of Boston ended payments, according to the court.

Benoit convinced a Department of Industrial Accidents administrative law judge that the city was wrong to cut off his benefits, and the judge ordered that the coverage be resumed.

In October 2012, the city cut off benefits again when Benoit was charged criminally, citing the 1972 suspension statute.

The SJC on Tuesday ordered the city to reconsider Benoit’s case, based on its ruling.

“The receipt of workers’ compensation benefits differs from these because, while such benefits are triggered by injuries that arise in the course of employment, they are not in exchange for services rendered during that employment,’’ Lenk wrote.


John R. Ellement
can be reached at ellement@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.

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