The Mandate: Paid municipal firefighters and police officers are potentially eligible for generous municipal disability benefits if an injury or illness is incurred in the performance of duty under General Municipal Law § 207-a or § 207-c, respectively, and the injured individual is unable to report for work. In these instances, such individual is entitled to all necessary medical treatment and receipt of a municipal disability benefit equal to the full amount of regular salary or wages. These payments are required to be made until the individual recovers, is granted a disability retirement or reaches the mandatory retirement age.
The Cost: For each individual with a § 207-a or § 207-c injury, not only does the municipality have to pay the disability benefit, but the local government also has to cover the workload of the injured individual by hiring a replacement or by paying overtime to an existing employee. This double payment for one actual worker puts a significant strain on fire and police department budgets in cities and villages throughout the state. A recent survey conducted by the NYS Conference of Mayors revealed approximately $15 million in expense to local taxpayers for § 207-a, and since § 207-c disability benefit recipients are more prevalent, § 207-c costs are even higher.
The Solution: These sections of the General Municipal Law should be amended to replace the "performance of duty" standard with a more appropriate "heightened risk" standard for the granting of these benefits. Under a "heightened risk" standard, an injury incurred while performing a work duty which did not involve a hazardous activity would not be eligible for the municipal disability benefit available under § 207-a and § 207-c. A police officer or firefighter who is injured while involved with a nonhazardous work duty instead would likely be eligible for less costly workers' compensation benefits.