Every worker in Georgia who is employed by an organization that has three or more workers is covered by workers’ compensation insurance. If or when an individual is injured or contracts an illness while on the job, he or she can file a claim with the employer. Over the years, the workforce demographic has changed; currently, the national workforce is shifting in two significant ways: 1) part of the workforce is aging, and 2) workers are becoming overweight when compared to prior generations.
An Aging Workforce
Whether an after-effect of the Great Recession, higher standards of living, or the result of individuals living longer due to advances in medicine, many people are waiting longer and longer to retire. No matter what the reason, retirement at age 65 is now the exception to the norm. Georgia is no exception – statistically, there are far more older workers in the state (and across the nation) than in prior generations.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for employers is adapting the work environment so that it is more suitable for older works. This includes undergoing suggestions by the Department of Labor including combating hazards, implementing wellness programs, and developing job design and ergonomics that make jobs less physically demanding for talented and skilled aging workers. Another factor to consider is the cost of workers’ compensation. While older workers have a lower risk of getting injured, if one is injured, the recovery time and required treatment tends to be longer and more costly than it is for their younger counterparts.
Some concerns regarding this demographic include comorbid conditions – including normal age-related ones such as osteoporosis, diabetes or obesity – which either increase the risk of injury or cause a delay in recovery time. Another concern is the higher risk of fatality. Although older workers have a lower risk of injury, when they are injured the risk of death increases with age. Studies show that workers age 60 and older are three times as likely to suffer a fatal work injury than their younger counterparts. The major culprits: falls and transportation accidents. Finally, older workers tend to experience longer recovery periods when they suffer workplace injuries. Recovery time for injured workers ages 25 to 44 needed between six and nine days to recuperate, workers ages 55 to 65 needed 11 to 12 days before returning to the work force. Not surprising, the more time required to recover the higher the workers’ compensation cost.
It is estimated that the number of older workers is expected to rise more so than any other age group.
An Overweight Workforce
Beyond an aging working population, another key demographic shift is the overweight and obese worker. It is no secret that obesity is a major issue in the United States. Georgia, in particular, ranks 19th in the highest obesity rates in the country with an adult obesity rate of 30.5 percent. Some researchers estimate that the obesity rate will rise to 51 percent by the year 2030.
Obesity and overweight employees affect workers’ compensation claims for several reasons, particularly because of the health issues associated with being overweight. Several diseases often are a result of obesity including, but not limited to: diabetes, cancer, stroke, osteoarthritis, breathing difficulties, and heart disease.
Obesity is considered a disease state by the American Medical Association, meaning that it is a medical condition that requires treatment and intervention. Accordingly, obesity is a comorbid condition for workers’ compensation – meaning a doctor treating an employee claiming benefits may need to treat the obesity first before treating the work-related injury or sickness related to the claim. This also means that obesity can be listed as part of an employee’s workers’ compensation claim.
Studies also show that employees that are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of becoming injured or contracting an illness at the workplace. Specifically, overweight and obese workers are more likely to experience fatigue, experience more stress on their muscles and bones, and have a higher risk of sustaining a sprain or strain in addition to back or shoulder injuries. Furthermore, safety equipment that is not properly proportioned for larger individuals is often not used because of discomfort or incorrect sizing.
Fault vs. No Fault
In most injury-related cases, fault is important as it determines who is liable for damages. This is not the case for Georgia workers’ compensation cases – or any workers’ compensation case across the nation, for that matter – as it is a “no fault’ system. This means that an employee is not required to establish fault on the part of the employer, another co-worker, or any other party in order to be eligible for benefits. This makes it easier to put forth a workers’ compensation claim because there is no need to put together a case to establish fault. Additionally, this also means that it does not matter if the employee was at fault for the injury.
There are a few exceptions to the no-fault workers’ compensation system. For example, state law clearly states that an injury or death due to intoxication by alcohol or under the influence of marijuana or another controlled substance. In other words, if a worker is drunk or high at the time of the workplace injury, the claim for benefits may be denied. Notwithstanding, having drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident is not a complete bar of benefits – if an employee can prove that the intoxication was not the cause of the injury the claim may move forward.
Georgia’s no-fault workers’ compensation system has its downfall. If a claim is filed an approved, workers are unable to sue the employer even if it was at fault. The workers’ compensation system is an exclusive remedy for employees against their coworkers and employers. Neither the employer nor the coworker can be sued in the event of negligence if a workers’ compensation claim is filed and received. Conversely, an injured or sick worker may be able to file a claim against a third party for damages in addition to pursuing his or her workers’ compensation claim.
Georgia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
The Bader Law Firm, LLC has experienced Savannah workers’ compensation lawyers who are ready to review your case for free. If you are injured on the job, contact us as soon as possible to learn more about how we can help.