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Workers' Compensation Blog

Advice for the Apprehensive Injured Worker

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

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

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 it is important to understand what rights you may be giving up if you let your concerns influence you to not file a workers’ compensation claim. You may be giving up more by deciding not to file a claim than you would even in the worst case scenario for employer retaliation: termination. (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).

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. For municipal workers, this benefit can often be paid at 100% of your wages. 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. This benefit becomes especially important if you are separated from your employment. Whether you are separated from employment or not, you are still entitled to compensation if you cannot do your job and your doctor agrees that you must be out of work.

Perhaps most importantly, Maryland law requires the Employer/Insurer to pay for all of medical treatment necessitated by your work injury. Maryland is unique in that you have the right 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 timely filed and accepted, however, there are no guarantees your employer or their insurer will authorize the treatment you wish to have – a good reason to consult with a legal professional). If you fail to timely file a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission, often times the insurance adjuster will take longer to authorize treatment or refuse to authorize your care altogether as there is no real motivation to do so. By successfully filing a claim, you’re guaranteeing at least the right to fight for your employer to pay for your lifetime medical care.

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. Some other important benefits to filing a claim are medical mileage reimbursement, vocational rehabilitation and temporary partial disability – to name a few.

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 wages, or worse yet be forced to suffer from a life altering disability without receiving any assistance 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.

Call attorney Charles Schultz, Esq. today at 410-769-5400.

Workers’ Compensation Claims Process - How long does it take to get a hearing and what is a “consideration date?

Friday, July 14, 2017

One of the most common questions I receive from clients concerns how long it takes to get a hearing before the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. As with any court or judicial body, the Commission sets its own schedule and the claimants and attorneys appearing before it are subject to that schedule. Generally speaking, however, it is a safe assumption that your hearing will be scheduled within three to four months from the date you file your claim or request a hearing. This can vary based on your hearing venue. For example, hearings are scheduled much quicker in Baltimore or Beltsville (the hearing sites with a higher volume and where hearings are held more frequently), than in La Vale or Cambridge (where hearings are held less frequently based on a lesser volume).

What is the “Consideration Date?”

The claim process begins when you file an “Employee Claim Form” with the Commission. This document asks you basic demographic and injury-specific questions. Once this is submitted, the Commission will send a Notice of Claim to your employer and your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier, referred to as the insurer. On the bottom-right of this Notice of Claim, you will find a “Consideration Date,” which is typically about a month from the date your original Employee Claim Form was filed. Your employer and insurer have until this date to either accept or contest your claim. If they contest the claim, they will file Contesting Issues with the Commission and you will have to wait for a hearing to present the evidence of your work-related injury or illness. You cannot request a hearing on your own behalf until after the “consideration date,” has passed. That’s why it is so important to file your claim as soon as possible.

My Employer and Insurer filed Contesting Issues; what next?

When your employer and insurer file Contesting Issues, they are, in effect, opposing the claim until the Commission can hold a hearing to determine the validity of your claim. As stated above, this will typically be scheduled anywhere between three to four months from the date your claim is initially filed. At this first hearing, you will be called upon to testify and present evidence of your work-related injury or illness, including medical records supporting your claim. After the hearing, the Commissioner will decide whether or not your injury or illness is covered by the workers’ compensation laws of Maryland. However, up until that time, you will not be able to recover any workers’ compensation benefits such as temporary total disability. You may or may not receive medical coverage. For this reason, it is all the more urgent that you consult with an attorney to determine your options and to prepare for this hearing.

How can my hearing be scheduled on an emergency basis?

In some circumstances, you can request the Commission to schedule your hearing sooner based on an “emergency” situation. For example, if you are unable to work on account of your injury or illness and have received collection notices on past-due bills or if you require emergency medical treatment, then the Commission may schedule your hearing sooner, within a matter of weeks rather than months. However, you must submit documents to support the urgency and these requests are not always granted.

If you have any questions or require assistance with your work-related injury or illness, please do not hesitate, contact Matthew Engler, Esq. today at 301-740-3322 or mengler@bsgfdlaw.com.

Workers’ Compensation and FMLA

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

If you find yourself injured on the job, and are required to miss work while you recover, you may be concerned about whether your job will still be waiting for you when you are able to return. Certain employees have federal protections available to them, in addition to their workers’ compensation benefits, which they may not be aware of.

What is FMLA?

Employees who suffer work related accidents may be covered under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act. In addition those same employees, who sustain what is known as a “serious health condition”, are entitled to federal protections under the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. The most important safeguards available to injured workers require that employers provide twelve (12) weeks of job-protected unpaid leave and continue to provide group health benefits during that twelve (12) week period. Put another way, FMLA holds your job open for twelve (12) weeks, if you are injured on the job and qualify for FMLA.

How Do I Know if I Qualify for FMLA?

If you work for a private employer who has at least fifty (50) employees, a federal, state ,or local government, or an elementary or secondary school (regardless of the number of employees), you are eligible for FMLA in addition to workers’ compensation benefits as long as you suffer a “serious health condition” in the course of your employment.

If you do work for a covered employer, you must have worked for that employer for at least twelve (12) months in order to qualify for job protection through FMLA, even if that work is seasonal.

A “serious health condition” includes a work injury where (1) you required an overnight stay in a hospital or medical facility; or (2) you were off work for more than three days and required ongoing medical treatment (such as multiple doctors’ appointments and/or follow up care).

What is the Difference Between FMLA and Workers’ Compensation?

Pay: Workers’ Compensation entitles you to payment of temporary total or partial disability benefits while you are off work and the payment of all reasonable treatment for your compensable work related injury. FMLA, however, is unpaid leave, which ensures that, as long as you return to work within the twelve (12) week period, you are entitled to return to the same or equivalent job. So, if you suffer a “serious health condition” on the job you may be entitled to payment through workers’ compensation, while your job is held open by FMLA.

Medical Expenses and Health Insurance: FMLA requires that covered employers continue to pay health insurance as if you were still working. However, this does not include the medical expenses that you incur as a result of your work related accident. This is not usually a concern since Workers’ Compensation gives you the lifetime right to request payment of any medical treatment which is reasonable, necessary, and related to the on the job accident. In other words, if you injure your knee on the job and require a knee replacement surgery as a result of that accident, you have the right to request that the medical expenses and recovery from that surgery be paid for under Workers’ Compensation. If you catch a cold while out of work for that knee replacement surgery during the twelve (12) week FMLA period, you will still be able to see your primary care physician under your employer provided health insurance and the job will be held open for you.

Navigating how Workers’ Compensation interacts with the Family Medical Leave Act can be complicated. In addition, workers may not realize the rights that they have under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act and Federal FMLA. If you are injured on the job and require an extended leave of absence to recover from your injury, please contact Natalie Whittingham.

Sick Leave Bank or Temporary Total Disability? An Introduction to How Leave Benefit Options Will Affect Your Workers’ Compensation Case

Friday, September 23, 2016

Many of my teacher clients often ask, and understandably so, how will I be paid while I am out of work and recovering from my injury? Because many boards of education in Maryland offer benefits other than what the Workers’ Compensation Act allows – the answer is - “it depends”. Oftentimes, the type of benefit received may be your choice – making it a good time to contact your attorney and make sure you understand the implications of what benefit you choose.

Maryland Law for Teachers Workers' Comp

Maryland law requires an Employer to pay you at the rate of 2/3s of your salary for the period of time you are recovering from your work related injury (legally known as temporary total disability or “TTD”). For many private sector employees, other than possibly a short or long term disability plan, the 2/3s wage benefit is the only benefit available while out of work. The 2/3s TTD benefit is tax free; however, oftentimes your health insurance is placed on hold, along with your contribution to any pension or other 401k type program while you receive this wage benefit – oftentimes placing you in a precarious position.

Additional Benefits Through Unions

Many teacher unions however, have collectively bargained for additional benefit options for their members. These benefits differ by County. Many boards of education will pay anywhere from 90 days to one year of “disability leave” (also known as “accident leave” or in certain cases “assault leave”) which takes the place of the workers’ compensation act’s 2/3s leave benefit. This benefit pays 100% of wages for the period of time you are recovering from your injury, effectively taking the place of your normal salary. Perhaps most importantly, this allows you to continue to pay for your own health insurance and contribute to your pension, FSA, etc., which many of my clients find to be extremely beneficial – especially if they provide health insurance for their families.

Once the “accident leave” or “disability leave” benefit has run its course, other potential TTD alternatives may be available to you. Personal and sick leave can always be used – however, these are earned leave benefits that should not be wasted on a work related injury if at all possible (if an employer is requiring you to use your own accrued leave to recover from a work injury, consult with your attorney). These are leave benefits you have earned – you are entitled to keep them if you are hurt on the job. Also important to note, even if your employer forced you to use your own personal or sick leave, oftentimes these benefits can be reimbursed at a later date.

Sick Leave Bank

Many school boards also offer “sick leave bank” benefits as another payment option. To be eligible you must contribute a set number of personal leave days to the bank per year to qualify – each County has its own set of rules and regulations to access the “bank”. You must be a member of the bank prior to needing to the days, however, when a work injury takes place this is another option which pays at 100% of your wages and continues the other benefits noted above (e.g. health insurance, etc.).

Additional Options to Review and Discuss

There may be other options aside from those noted above to compensate you when you’re injured on the job. Leave benefits are just one of the benefits you may be entitled to if you are injured on the job. Compensation for permanent problems, retraining and reimbursement for travel expenses are just a few of the other benefits that may be available to you.

Consult with your attorney to be sure you are not leaving money on the table.

Can Teachers Collect Leave Benefits During Summer Break?

Friday, September 23, 2016

The days are now long, morning frost is a thing of the past, and thousands of Maryland’s educators’ are enjoying their summer breaks. What better way to kick off this year’s few months of relaxation (or switching gears for that summer job) than to brush up on your workers’ compensation knowledge?

Workers' Comp Benefits and Summer Break

This time of year, I always hear from a number of my teacher clients who are wondering how the summer break will affect their workers’ compensation benefits. Generally speaking, under the Workers’ Compensation Act, Maryland workers are entitled to 2/3s of their wages (known legally as temporary total disability or “TTD”) during the recovery period after an injury when they are incapable of working. (Most boards of education offer a 100% wage benefit to their employees for a specified time period. This issue and its implications on workers’ compensation benefits will be discussed in greater detail in a future blog).

Boards of Education however, will often refuse payment of TTD during our educators’ summer vacation - making the argument that the injured teacher is a 10 month employee and would not be paid during the summer months if they had not been injured at work.
The law in Maryland, however, makes clear that the having an actual intention to work or the opportunity to work for that matter, is not a requirement to collect TTD. Maryland’s test is loss of earning capacity, or the inability to work, regardless of whether there would be actual wage loss. Maryland’s highest court has held that both retired workers – who may never work again (no intention of working), and incarcerated employees (no opportunity to work), are both entitled to payment of TTD during the period they would be physically unable to perform their job duties.

In short – teachers are entitled to TTD over the summer if they are still recovering from a work injury and can’t physically perform their job duties, regardless of whether or not there are any job duties available to perform.

Pay Plans and Benefit Coverage

Another important factor to consider under these circumstances is whether an individual takes a 10 month pay or chooses to spread out their pay over 12 months. Boards of Education will often argue that if a teacher is compensated on the 12 month plan, they should not be entitled to TTD benefits during summer because they are already being paid and would then be “double dipping”. However, this could not be further from the truth. Even if the pay is spread over 12 months, teachers are still only being paid for 10 months of work and accordingly, are still entitled to summer TTD. Deferring earned income does not preclude TTD benefits during the summer months.

Bring on the heat.

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