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Workers' Compensation Blog

Correctional Officers and Hypertension: Protect Your Rights

Thursday, September 22, 2016

By Jason Shultz, Esq.

 

Being a correctional officer is one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs in the world. Think about what these women and men do every day. They walk through prison gates; the doors are locked BEHIND them, and are asked to protect us from the most dangerous criminals in Maryland. They are not carrying firearms and are wearing very little protection. Correctional officers know the risk and despite that, show up every day for work and protect the public. In turn, the State of Maryland does not provide them with as many workers’ compensation protections as they could.

Correctional officers are on the front lines of public safety in Maryland. They stand side by side with police and fire to provide safety to the public. Yet the law does not afford them the same protections as police and fire. In Maryland, and throughout the country, the law recognizes that police officers and firefighters have a higher risk of developing hypertension and heart disease. This is a direct result of the high stress nature of being a police officer and firefighter. The law presumes that if a police officer or firefighter develops hypertension, it’s presumed to have been caused by the stress of their job. This is backed up by research. The presumption itself is vital because the workers’ compensation insurance company has the burden to prove that the hypertension was caused by something other than the stress of the job. In other workers’ compensation cases, the burden is on the injured worker to prove the injuries were caused by the accident or the in the case of an occupation disease, the disease was caused by the nature of the employment.

Why doesn’t the law provide correctional officers the same protection as police and fire? Think about what correctional officers face every day. The threat of assault is constant; they have to be on high alert from the moment they walk in the prison. Is being surrounded by violent criminals forty hours a week just as stressful as being a police officer and firefighter? And when you think about public safety, people often fail to consider that correctional officers are the last line of defense, and provide just as much safety to the public as police or fire. There have been bills introduced in the last two Legislative sessions to provide Maryland correctional officers the same protections as police and fire and neither has been enacted. Two sessions ago during the testimony before Senate, representatives from the workers’ compensation insurance industry actually testified that correctional officers do not protect the public, and that’s why legislators should vote down the bill!

Some jurisdictions in Maryland do recognized that correctional officers have the same increased risk of hypertension. Both Montgomery and Prince George's counties treat their correctional officers the same as their police and firefighters. If a Montgomery County or Prince George’s County correctional officer develops hypertension, the law presumes it’s caused by the stress of their employment and they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, but if a correctional officer in a State of Maryland facility develops hypertension, they do not have the same protection. How can this be? The worst of the worst are housed in State of Maryland facilities. How can State of Maryland correctional officers not face the same, if not more stress, as a Prince Georges’ or Montgomery County correctional officers?

Despite this inherent unfairness, correctional officers throughout the state STILL have the right to file hypertension claims. Just because they don’t have the presumption does not mean they cannot fight for their rights. We are currently fighting for the rights of correctional officers who have hypertension despite the lack of a presumption bill, and we will continue to do so. If you do have a hypertension and are a correctional officer, make sure you protect your rights by filing a workers’ compensation claim. Don’t wait for the Legislature to protect your rights for you.

Jason Shultz, Esq.

Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby LLP

Lutherville: 800-248-3352

Gaithersburg: 800-827-2667

Advice for the Apprehensive Injured Worker

Thursday, September 22, 2016

By Charles Schultz, Esq.

A few times a week I get a call from an injured worker who is considering filing a workers’ compensation claim with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission but is concerned about the repercussions that may take place after filing their claim.

While it is understandable, and in certain circumstances a very real concern that an employer may retaliate against an injured worker after a claim is filed, if you are injured on the job you must understand what rights you may be giving up if you don’t file a workers’ compensation claim. Often times you may be giving up more by deciding not to file a claim than you would be even in the worst case scenario for employer retaliation – termination. (It should be noted that Maryland is an “at-will” employment state, meaning an employer can fire an employee for any non-illegal reason. However it is against Maryland law to fire an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim). Those who have been lucky enough to avoid the workers’ compensation process understandably may have little to no knowledge of what benefits may be available to them through Maryland’s workers’ compensation laws. The following paragraphs will detail the rights potentially available to injured workers in Maryland who are successful in filing their workers’ compensation claim. (As a quick aside, it is of utmost importance to understand that filling out a report of injury for your employer is NOT filing a claim with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. If a claim is not properly filed you may be forfeiting your rights. It is important to consult legal counsel to ensure proper filing).

By failing to file a claim you may be giving up compensation at 2/3s of your pre-taxed wages for the period of time you are unable to work while you recover from your work injury. Often times this means exhausting your hard earned personal, vacation and/or sick leave when your employer or its insurer is the legally responsible for paying your wages for each day missed – and doing so without tapping into your personally accrued leave time. This benefit becomes especially important if you are separated from your employment. This is because the payment of workers’ compensation leave benefits that you are entitled to while you are unable to work as a result of your work injury has no correlation to your employment itself. Whether you are still employed or have been separated from employment, you are still entitled to compensation if you cannot do your job and your doctor agrees that you must be out of work.

Compensation for time out of work is important – everyone has bills to pay – and the money received for lost time from work can help to make sure you don’t fall behind while you work to get back on the job. However, the best benefit in Maryland’s workers’ compensation law is the payment of medical treatment necessitated by your work injury. Maryland is unique in that you have the right, as an injured worker, to seek treatment with a doctor of your choice. And most important of all, there is no time limitation on your ability to seek treatment as a result of a work injury. (The right to fight for treatment never expires once a claim has been accepted, however, there are no guarantees your employer or their insurer will authorize the treatment you wish to have – yet another good reason to consult with a legal professional). If you fail to file a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission, often times the insurance adjuster will take longer to authorize treatment as there is no real motivation to do so. Further, if the insurance company decides to deny your treatment you will have no means to force them to pay for the treatment your doctor is recommending. This leaves you with the responsibility of convincing your own insurance company to pay for your treatment, or worse yet, paying for your treatment out of pocket. By successfully filing a claim, you’re guaranteeing at least the right to fight for your employer to pay for the treatment you need to get you better and back to work.

Compensation for permanent disability is the last main benefit available to those who are successful in filing a workers’ compensation claim. Often times the money received for an individual’s permanent disability does not truly compensate him/her for the affect their injury has had on their life - especially with more serious injuries. However, some compensation is certainly better than receiving no compensation at all. By failing to file a claim, you forgo this right altogether.

You work hard at your job every day, giving up precious time with your family to help further your companies’ goals. If you get hurt while on the job you owe it to yourself to protect both you and your family by filing a claim. You should not have to pay out of your own pocket for medical treatment, struggle to make your bills because you are incapable of earning an income, or worse yet be forced to suffer from a life altering disability without receiving any assistance from your employer and their insurer to get you back on your feet.

So if you get hurt on the job – protect yourself and your family by filing your claim. And if you’re concerned about the potential repercussions of doing so, consult with legal counsel to make sure you understand not just what problems may arise if you do file your claim, but what problems may arise if you don’t.

Charles Schultz, Esq.
1301 York Road, Suite 600
Lutherville, MD 21093
(410) 769-5400
www.bermandarby.com

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