California Public Employee Disability Retirement Law:
2023 Year in Review
There were several new, different, and interesting developments in California regarding public employee disability retirement law in 2023, particularly with the major CalPERS and CalSTRS systems.
In this article the experienced California disability attorneys at Cantrell Green review some of the key highlights of 2023.
2023 California Legislation Changes in Disability Retirement Law
California AB 1763
California AB 1763 was a bill, signed into law in September 2023, which allows peace officers with specific job-related injuries to retire on disability even if their disability doesn’t completely prevent them from performing their usual duties. This applies to CalPERS and other retirement systems.
Peace officers employed by the state, local agencies, universities, and community colleges are eligible. This includes police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state park rangers, harbor police, and other sworn personnel performing similar duties.
The disability must be job-related, meaning it arose directly from performing their specific duties as a peace officer. The disability can be physical or mental, including conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, or injuries sustained in the line of duty. Partial disability is sufficient.
Prior to AB 1763, officers needed to be completely unable to perform their duties to qualify. Now, they can retire on disability even if they can’t perform their usual duties but could potentially perform other tasks within the agency. Previously, peace officers often faced challenges meeting the strict “total disability” requirement, even with job-related injuries or mental health conditions. But AB 1763 creates a more flexible standard, acknowledging the unique physical and mental demands of police work and the potential for lasting impacts.
This allows officers with job-related disabilities to access retirement benefits and financial security while potentially transitioning to other suitable roles within the system.
California SB 611
California SB 611 was another bill, also signed into law in September 2023. This law makes it easier for certain state employees with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to qualify for disability retirement under CalPERS.
State employees covered by CalPERS, potentially including various personnel across departments, agencies, and public universities are eligible. The bill specifically targets those exposed to traumatic events on the job that could lead to PTSD, such as law enforcement officers, healthcare workers, social workers, and correctional officers.
Previously, employees had to prove a direct link between their job and PTSD through extensive documentation and expert testimony. SB 611 creates a presumption of service connection for PTSD in eligible employees who meet specific criteria. This means it’s assumed the PTSD is job-related unless the employer can prove otherwise.
The bill also streamlines the medical evaluation process by requiring medical professionals to use specific criteria when assessing PTSD in relation to job duties and traumatic events.
Potential impact of California SB611 is faster and easier access to disability retirement for CalPERS employees with PTSD. Hopefully, employees with PTSD will face fewer hurdles and delays in obtaining disability benefits, improving financial security and access to necessary mental health support. Additionally, the presumption of service connection can significantly ease the burden on employees to prove job-relatedness, simplifying the application process.
Additionally, SB 611 raises awareness about PTSD in the workplace and encourages employees to seek help without jeopardizing their eligibility for disability benefits. However, it is important to remember that SB 611 doesn’t guarantee automatic disability retirement for everyone with PTSD. Specific criteria and individual evaluations still apply.
For this reason, employees should consult with an experienced CalPERS attorney with PTSD for guidance on their specific situation and application process.
Other 2023 California Disability Retirement Law Developments
In 2023 CalPERS implemented changes to its medical evaluation process for disability retirement, aiming to improve efficiency and accuracy. And CalSTRS released new guidance on how it evaluates mental health conditions for disability retirement, including PTSD.
Other developments in California Disability Retirement Law have Increased focus on mental health. There’s growing recognition of the mental health challenges faced by public employees, leading to more resources and support for disability retirement claims based on mental health conditions.
Additionally, CalPERS and CalSTRS are exploring how technology can improve the disability retirement application and evaluation process.
California Disability Retirement Attorneys
Cantrell Green is one of very few California law firms that are highly specialized in Retirement Disability cases. Our attorneys have filed hundreds of successful disability retirement applications and appeals, obtaining millions of dollars in disability retirement benefits for our clients. You have worked hard to earn your public employment system benefits – and our attorneys are here to help you get what you deserve.
Our attorneys have assisted hundreds of police officers, firefighters, teachers, administrators, corrections employees, transportation workers and other public employees in applying for disability retirement – and successfully appealing disability retirement denials.
Call us today for a consultation with an experienced California Disability Retirement attorney.