Police and firefighters have, by far, some of the most physically taxing jobs in the U.S. today, and it’s no surprise that these men and women are more likely to experience injuries — both physical and psychological — on the job, compared to the average American worker. But in an Los Angeles Times Special Report, it appears that these injuries are increasing exponentially, and they’re causing the city of L.A. millions of dollars more than what the average city currently pays for injury claims.
Over a period of five years, from 2009 to 2013, data collected by the L.A. Times shows that the total amount of money paid to public safety workers in L.A. who are on leave for work-related injuries has increased by more than 30%; currently, the injury-leave program for L.A. police officers and firefighters is costing taxpayers about $42 million per year, and the cost for the entire five-year period amounts to more than $328 million taxpayer dollars.
City employees are, according to the data, increasing the frequency with which they go on injury leave, but they’re also taking longer periods of paid leave when they do so. Police and firefighting departments have found that, in addition to paying the salaries of employees on leave, their funding has become strained after paying for additional overtime employees to compensate for those on temporary leave. Overall, the number of public safety workers on the streets of L.A. has decreased because of this.
One theory about this trend is that employees are seeing their colleagues taking longer leaves for smaller ailments — without being penalized — and there’s no reason to not abuse the system when everyone else is doing so. Another theory is related to the finances behind L.A.’s injury-leave program: injury pay is exempt from federal and state taxes, so an employee on leave is likely to bring home more money than when he or she is actually working.
It should certainly be acknowledged again that these public safety workers are putting their lives on the line every day, and they experience more stress on a daily basis than most Americans ever will. But this trend in injury-leaves appears to be putting the entire police and firefighting force of L.A. at risk. As Frank Lima, the president of the L.A. firefighters’ union, states, “We’re short-staffed. We’re being run into the ground. If anything, I’m surprised [the rate of injury claims] is not higher.”
In other words, those workers making false claims are actually putting their colleagues in greater danger. While a legitimate work-related injury should never be ignored, dramatizing injuries or turning to dubious law firms for help may cause more damage than most people realize.