California Court Rules Workers’ Comp Benefits Don’t Apply at Conference

December 17, 2007

The family of an employee is not entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits if the death occurs while the employer is attending an educational conference, the Court of Appeal in California has ruled.

In City of Los Angeles v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Lucina Deleon, a California Workers’ Compensation Administrative Law Judge ruled that Lucina DeLeon was entitled to death benefits because her husband’s death arose out of and in the course of employment.

In September 2005, Jose B. DeLeon fell and died while walking back to his hotel while attending a certified public accountant’s convention in Atlantic City, N.J. Lucina was partially dependent on Jose’s income, and filed a claim for death benefits alleging that Jose’s death was related to him employment as an accountant with the city.

The city of Los Angeles did not require a CAP license for Jose’s position. However, the city did pay a 5.5 percent “personal achievement bonus” to accountants with a CPA license pursuant to a memorandum of understanding with the employee’s union.

Jose had received the bonus since 1985 when he began working for the city. The city provided mandatory training for its accountants, and some of the training was applicable for maintaining a CPA license.

Lucina believed that because Jose’s CPA license helped him to perform his job better and keep him up to date on changing rules and laws, she was entitled to the death benefits. However, the city believed that because the CPA license was not required for the job, Lucina should not receive benefits.

The WCJ concluded that Jose’s death was work related and that Jose would not have been in Atlantic City but for the work related need to maintain his CPA license, and awarded Lucinda her husband’s death benefits. The city of Los Angeles sought a review of the decision.

The Court of Appeal reversed WCJ’s decision. According to the appeals court, because the city did not require or recommend obtaining a CPA license, did not reimburse for classes taken to obtain such a license and offered other training for its accountants, and less than 13 percent of the city’s accountants maintained CPA licenses, “clearly, the CPA license was not contemplated by the contract of employment, did not benefit the city by making DeLeon perform his assigned tasks more effectively and was appropriately labeled a personal achievement bonus.”

Source: California Courts

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