Workers' Compensation
Summer 2024

Do You Hear What I Hear? — Hearing Loss Changes in Maryland Workers’ Compensation

On April 25, 2024, Governor Wes Moore signed HB 669/SB 843 into law, which alters the approach in which future occupational deafness and hearing loss shall be calculated for purposes of workers’ compensation benefits. Under current law, the percentage of hearing loss was calculated based on average hearing loss at four frequency thresholds: 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 hertz. If the average hearing loss in the four frequencies was equivalent to or less than 25 decibels, there was no compensable hearing loss.

The current law includes an offset for hearing loss occurring as a result of non-occupational causes – the ones that occur naturally as we age and due to day-to-day activities. The offset is calculated by deducting from the total average decibel loss one-half of a decibel for each year of the covered worker’s age over 50. The purpose of this offset is to ensure the employer is only responsible for the portion of the employee’s deafness attributable to the employment.

The new law, effective October 1, 2024, alters the way occupational deafness will be calculated by adding a fifth frequency threshold and an alternative calculation for consideration of the offset.

Moving forward, the Workers’ Compensation Commission will be required to consider an additional frequency of 4,000 hertz to be included in the calculation of an employee’s average hearing loss, in addition to the four existing thresholds. The five frequencies are: 500, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 hertz. Most notably, the new law also alters the prior method used to calculate the offset due to nonoccupational hearing loss by allowing a deduction from the total average decibel loss, one-half of a decibel for each year of the covered worker’s age over 50, or for each year subsequent to the date of the covered employee’s last injurious exposure, whichever is less.

One aspect that will not change is that employers remain exempt from liability when the claimant has not been employed in the type of employment which exposed him or her to the harmful noise for at least 90 days.

The new law may cause a larger pool of workers’ compensation claims related to hearing loss, and unfortunately for employers, age-based and natural hearing loss may not be accounted for as strongly as in prior years. This may increase the expense of hearing loss claims, so it is important for all employers to be aware of these changes and implement policies as necessary to prevent hearing loss claims to the extent possible.

Written by Associate Stephanie O’Neill.