Maryland workers' comp bills called 'anti-business'

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Local,Business,Maryland,Andy Brownfield

A Maryland legislative panel on Tuesday examined measures to prevent employers from striking back at employees who file workers' compensation claims and to give the Workers' Compensation Commission control over how much employers can pay for experts in compensation cases -- measures opponents decried as anti-business.

The first measure would prevent employers from retaliating against workers who are injured and file claims -- something that's already illegal but employment lawyers say is unenforcable.

Current law prevents employers from firing employees who file workers' compensation claims, but those workers have to prove their claim was the only reason they were terminated.

"No one has ever been able to prove they have been fired solely because they filed a workers' comp charge," Kathleen Cahill, a Baltimore employment lawyer, told the Senate Finance Committee.

However, businesses say the definition of retaliation is overly vague and broad and would open up the system to fraud. The bill states that employers are forbidden from retaliating "in any way."

Business owners are worried that employees who can't physically do their old jobs and are assigned different duties could claim retaliation, said Bob Earlandson, legislative chairman with the Maryland Self Insurers' & Employers' Compensation Association.

The other bill would limit what businesses could pay doctors who review cases and testify on behalf of employers before the Workers' Compensation Commission.

Currently, the commission limits what workers can pay the doctors they choose to testify about the extent of their injuries.

However, businesses are not limited in what they can pay doctors who testify on their behalf.

"We have a system of institutionalized bribery in workers' compensation right now," said Andy Kahn to laughter from representatives of employers' groups sitting in the committee room, Kahn is a workers' compensation attorney in Baltimore.

Kahn argued that limiting what businesses can pay doctors would reduce costs across the system.

Earlandson joked that it was kind of the other side to want to save him money, but it is necessary to hire qualified doctors to review sometimes unnecessary or ineffective treatment prescribed by doctors chosen by workers' lawyers.

"You're not going to get well-qualified doctors to go through literally inches or, in some cases, feet of medical reports to render opinions ... for a couple of hundred bucks," he said.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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