OCCUPATIONAL HEARING LOSS
The Workers’ Compensation Law provides benefits for workers who suffer from hearing loss as the result of occupational noise exposure. These benefits include money awards and payment for hearing aids. However, a claim for occupational hearing loss cannot be filed while someone is still working and is still exposed to loud noises – they have to wait until they have been out of the noise-exposed job for at least three months before filing a claim.
There are many occupations that involve exposure to loud noise. A short list would include transportation (airports, subways, buses), construction, and printing work. In order to succeed in a claim for compensation, the worker must be able to show that he or she was exposed to injurious noise over their working career. Although many employers now provide some form of hearing protection, in most jobs it cannot be worn continuously and there is still noise exposure despite the availability of protective devices. A person who has had occupational noise exposure often develops sensorineural hearing loss, which appears in a distinctive pattern when an audiogram is performed.
The law requires a worker to wait at least ninety days after they are removed from the noise exposure before filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits for occupational hearing loss. For many workers, this means ninety days after they retire, although a claim can also be filed if the worker changes careers or is transferred to a job that does not involve noise exposure.
The biggest pitfall for workers who suffer occupational hearing loss is waiting too long to file the claim. The legal time limit to file a claim is two years from the “date of disablement.” The law defines the date of disablement as three months after (1) the worker last worked for the last employer where he or she was exposed to loud noise; or (2) the worker’s noise exposure ended because the employer provided him or her with effective hearing protection. The choice of which date to use belongs to the worker.
For example, if a subway track worker retired on March 1, 2020 he or she cannot file a claim before June 1, 2020 (because they must be out of the noise exposure for three months before filing), but must file before June 1, 2022 (because the time limitation is two years from the date of disablement).
The law does include an exception for workers who discover that they have a work-related hearing loss more than two years and three months after leaving employment. In that situation, the law provides the worker with ninety days from the day they learn that they have an occupational hearing loss to file a claim.