A Suffolk County correction officer, who sustained serious disabling injuries on the job, applied for accidental disability retirement benefits pursuant to G.L.c. 32, §7, and argued that a uniform allowance provided by the county should be deemed “regular compensation” and included in his retirement calculation.
Robert T. O’Brien contended that holiday pay, a fitness bonus, a uniform allowance, longevity pay, and an educational differential, qualified as ‘regular compensation for the purpose of calculating his retirement allowance. In a decision by the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board (CRAB) it was held that holiday pay and the fitness bonus did not qualify as ‘regular compensation,’ as defined by G.L.c. 32, §1, for the purpose of calculating the retirement allowance. CRAB also determined that an educational differential and longevity pay did qualify as ‘regular compensation’ under §1. An Appeals Court, however, ruled that CRAB wrongly determined that the uniform allowance qualified as ‘regular compensation’ for the purpose of computing O’Brien’s retirement allowance.
The Appeals Court said that “[t]he retiree’s uniform allowance does not denote ‘recurring payments for an employee’s services.’ … A uniform allowance is not a form of payment, or ‘other compensation,’ for the services rendered by the employee; rather, it is a benefit offered by the public employer as a matter of convenience so that its employees will be attired in standard and identifiable clothing on the job, especially in light of the potentially dangerous setting in which the employees work. The uniform is a ‘tool’ required to be used by the employees in the sheriff’s office. …
“Based on the foregoing, the judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed insofar as they uphold the board’s exclusion of holiday pay and the fitness bonus, and require the inclusion of the educational differential and longevity pay, in the board’s calculation of O’Brien’s regular compensation. The judgment is reversed to the extent that they require the inclusion of the uniform allowance in the computation of O’Brien’s regular compensation. The matter is remanded to the Superior Court with a directive to transmit the case to CRAB so that it (or the board) may recalculate and make the necessary adjustments to the retirement allowance to which O’Brien is entitled under G.L.c. 32 consistent with this opinion.”
-Attorney John J. MacLaughlan