How are volunteer firefighters compensated if they are injured on the job in Minnesota?
Generally, workers’ compensation benefits are only available to individuals who are considered employees. Employees are individuals who perform services for an employer for pay. Fortunately, there is an exception for individuals who voluntarily perform “emergency management.” Emergency management includes firefighting services, police services, medical and health services, rescue, engineering, warning services, emergency transportation and other services related to civilian protection.
When an individual performing one of the above-mentioned services is injured on the job in Minnesota, they are entitled to wage loss benefits when they miss time from work due to a work injury. Their wage loss benefits are calculated based on “the usual wage paid at the time of the injury… for similar services or institution where the services are performed by paid employees.” Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd 9(9).
What this means is that the workers’ compensation insurance company will impute a wage that is the same or similar to the salary paid to full-time employee performing the same job duties. For instance, a volunteer firefighter’s wages will be calculated based on the wages earned by paid firefighters. The law requires that when imputing the wage, the insurer considers the wage paid to a person in a similarly-sized city as the one where the volunteer performs duties. Not only must the city be the same size, but it must be in a close geographic location to the one where the volunteer performs duties.
The reason that volunteers are protected under the law in this way is to ensure that individuals are not discouraged from performing volunteer services. If volunteers performing emergency services were not covered under workers’ compensation, there could be a chilling effect on the provision of emergency services in smaller communities; especially in light of the fact that these types of emergency services are inherently dangerous and individuals who perform them are at a higher risk for suffering injury.
If a volunteer is performing two or more jobs, income from his/her paid job can also be combined with the imputed wage for the volunteer services. However, the total earnings from an imputed volunteer wage and from a regular paid job cannot unfairly exaggerate lost income. In other words, an injured volunteer can’t receive both their wages from their regular paid occupation and imputed volunteer wages at the same time.
So how do you know whether or not you are being fairly compensated when you are injured as a volunteer? The short answer is: you don’t. This is certainly an aberration of Minnesota workers’ compensation law that even some insurance companies are unfamiliar with.
If you were injured on the job in Minnesota while performing volunteer emergency services, your best bet is to contact an attorney who can be sure that you are being paid workers’ compensation benefits at a fair wage. We would be happy to review your case to answer any questions you have and help you understand your legal options.