The Illinois FOP Labor Council

The Labor Council provides full union representation: negotiating and enforcing contracts, improving salaries, working conditions, and benefits for law enforcement professionals throughout Illinois. Our members are protected 24 hours a day by a staff of full-time, in-house attorneys and field representatives who have a proven track record of winning.

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By John Weathers, Attorney - Thursday, January 22, 2015

 

We all know that law enforcement is a dangerous profession.  You don’t need those periodic lists of most dangerous jobs to tell you that.  The potential for a work related injury is never far away.  Hopefully the injury is slight, or at least slight enough to only be a bump in the road of your career.  However, the potential does exist an injury is severe enough to be a major road block or even, God forbid, career ending.  In the case of a career ending injury, what then?

The vast majority of Labor Council’s law enforcement members receive pension benefits pursuant to Article 3 of the Illinois Pension Code.  As a pension system member under Article 3, if it is determined that you are no longer capable of performing your duties as a law enforcement officer, you are eligible for a disability pension.  But not all disability pensions are equal.  Below I will briefly discuss the basics (the very basic basics, subject to differences based on various circumstances)  of disability pensions in Illinois.

First, what are the circumstances of your injury?  The legal question to be determined is, was it a “line of duty” disability (40 ILCS 5/3-114.1) or a “non-duty” disability (40 ILCS 5/3-114.2) pursuant to Illinois Statute?  The answer to that pivotal question is not as simple as being on the clock.  Rather, a whole line of court cases have defined what constitutes line of duty and non-duty disabilities in Illinois.

What constitutes a line of duty disability is dependent on the officer being engaged in an act of duty that is distinguishable from the mundane actions of the every day life of a citizen that carry no specialized risk.  The risk must be attributable to the inherent act of the duty being carried out.   So, destroying your knee while walking across a street to assist a citizen whose vehicle is blocking traffic at a busy intersection, creating a safety hazard, while certainly mundane, would likely qualify an officer for a line of duty disability if that officer was unable to return to duty.  On the other hand, if the exact same injury occurred while running down department stairs after retrieving a pen to complete the day’s reports, it would probably not be a line of duty disability because the act of report-writing carries no inherent, specialized risk.

If an officer on road patrol is disabled when hit by another car running a red light, that officer will likely be granted a line of duty disability because he was on patrol, and being on patrol has been deemed to carry certain specialized risks.  If, however, the officer was not on patrol, but was instead an investigator returning to the department from a crime scene, and was similarly injured in an accident that was indistinguishable from the previously mentioned patrol accident, that officer would likely not receive a line of duty disability because driving to and from the department is not a specialized risk such as patrolling.

So what does that mean for these similarly injured, but not similarly acting officers?

An officer deemed to have been disabled in the line of duty will be eligible for either 65% of his or her salary at the time of the disability or his or her service retirement pension that the officer has earned based on years of service, whichever is higher.  In the alternative, an officer determined to have been disabled in a non-duty related injury or illness will only receive 50% of his or her salary.  Line of duty disabled officers’ payments will be non-taxable and will be increased by 3% annually after the officer obtains the age of 60.  For both in line, and non-duty disabled officers, the benefits will not exhaust so long as the disability is continued and provable, and, will vest fully one the first day on payroll.

Unfortunately, our members who work at State of Illinois Universities do not receive the same benefits as are provided in Article 3 of the Illinois Pension Code.  Rather, they are pension system members pursuant to Article 15, the State Universities Retirement System (SURS).  Under SURS, there is no special line of duty disability benefits.  Regardless of how an officer is injured and subsequently disabled, he or she will receive no more than 50% their last salary unless they have already accrued enough creditable service time to retire at a higher amount.  Furthermore, regardless of how the disability occurred and even if while in the line of duty, the disability benefit will be capped at the amount equal to 50% of what the disabled officer earned during his or her time in service.  Lastly, these benefits are taxable, further decreasing their effect.

An ugly proposition to be sure.  Educating oneself as to the parameters of the pension system is essential.  This article was not meant to cover all the bases of the pension system, but to get you thinking about those “what if” scenarios we all know you face daily.  It is important to remember that supplemental disability insurance of one kind or another may lessen the blow and is worth looking into.  

About the author:  John Weathers is an attorney with the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council working out of the Springfield office since 2010.   He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1993 and worked in the sales industry before enrolling at the Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1998.  Following his graduation from Kent in 2001, John became a legislative staffer/attorney for a member of Illinois State legislature before joining the Office of Illinois Attorney General in 2004.  His practice for the Attorney General focused primarily on defense of the State of Illinois in election law and inmate litigation.  In 2006, John took a position at the Illinois Department of Central Management Services in the Office of Labor Relations, where he worked until joining the FOP Labor Council in 2010.