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The Supreme Court of Rhode Island on Tuesday affirmed an earlier court ruling that found a school employee’s state benefits related to a program aimed at avoiding layoffs cannot be used in calculating average weekly wage.
The decision stems from a claim where a Warwick Public Schools employees in Warwick, Rhode Island, injured his left knee while shoveling snow in late December 2012. Unable to work for more than three months, part-time employee Mark Powers disputed the district’s calculation of his average weekly pay because it did not factor in benefits received from the state for a work-sharing program that was created to help districts avoid laying off personnel by helping districts create job-share opportunities by reducing hours and helping to bridge the gap between full-time pay and part-time pay with the supplemental state benefits, according to documents in Mark D. Powers v. Warwick Public Schools, filed in Providence, Rhode Island.
Both a trial judge and a state appellate court found that the supplemental benefits could not be included in the lost-wages calculation because such work-sharing benefits are “tantamount to unemployment compensation benefits,” records state.
Mr. Powers appealed, contending that “work-sharing benefits should be equated, not with traditional unemployment compensation benefits, but with holiday pay and vacation pay.”
While courts in Rhode Island “ruled that holiday pay is to be included in the determination of average weekly wage” and that “vacation pay is expressly included in the average weekly wage calculation,” the high court, in its discussion, stated “we are unpersuaded by the comparison thereto that Mr. Powers seeks to draw. It is true that an employee does not actually work when receiving vacation or holiday pay. However, we are of the opinion that the term ‘wages’ understandably includes vacation and holiday pay, as those are incidents of employment” and not of benefits likened to that of unemployment.
Neither attorneys involved nor officials with the school district could immediately be reached for comment.
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