Earlier this year, state legislators passed House Bills 818, 402 and 216 all of which aimed to make significant changes to Georgia’s State Workers’ Compensation Act. The House Bill 818 was proposed and submitted to the 2015-16 regular session of the Georgia General Assembly by House Representatives Jason Shaw and Chad Nimmer, in addition to four others. If you or someone you know works in Georgia, it is important to become familiar with the modifications to this state law as it affects all workers in the state.
Changes in State Workers’ Compensation Law
The relevant changes in the bills are scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016. These include:
- Change in the Workers’ Compensation Benefit Rates: House Bill 818 provided a boon for workers, increasing two types of income benefits in workers’ compensation claims. Going forward, all accidents or illnesses occurring on or after July 1, 2016 will have a new maximum weekly rate of $575 (increased from $525 per week) for Temporary Total Disability (TTD). The minimum TDD amount will remain at $50 per week, unless the claimant makes less than this amount weekly. The new maximum Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) weekly rate will increase to $383 per week (from its prior amount of $367).
- Change in the Death Benefit Rate: under section 34-9-265 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.), the total amount of money that a surviving spouse, who is the sole dependent at the time of the employee’s death increased by $10,000 from $220,000 to $230,000.
- Clarification of Self-Insured Status: House Bill 818 also spells out the State Board’s jurisdiction to grant or deny self-insurance status based on specific factors including the applicant’s financial means, liability and exposure. The purpose was to clarify which applicants qualify for coverage under the state’s Self-Insurers Guaranty Trust Fund (SIGTF) in the event of that debts cannot be paid.. The new bill also excludes Assigned Staffing Organizations (ASOs), Professional Employment Organizations (PEOs) and other similar organizations from coverage under the SIGTF.
- Push for a Work-Based Learning Program: The intent of House Bill 402 is to incentivize employers to create learning opportunities for employees that are work-based, intended for students ages 16 and above. Under the bill, employers who are certified as work-based learning employers and notify this status to their insurer will benefit from an optional reduction in premiums of as much as five percent. The discount would be applied pro rata as of the date the insured receives notification and continues as long as the employer remains certified. House Bill 402 also further defines this program by specifying that a work-based learning employer must enter into an agreement to train with at least one student, develop a plan in cooperation with a school’s work-based learning coordinator, assign a mentor to the work-based learning student, and cover this student under the company’s workers’ compensation insurance. Self-insured employers may also qualify for the premium discount if they comply with the law.
- Right to Compensation – Firefighters Diagnosed with Cancer: House Bill 216 originally proposed a rebuttable presumption to firefighters diagnosed with specific illnesses, but this version did not enough support to move forward. Instead, the bill amends the occupational disease statute to include a preponderance of the evidence instead of a rebuttable presumption, applies only to firefighters, and limits the scope of diseases specifically to cancer. Before the bill, cancer was considered an ordinary disease of life and therefore it was excluded from coverage as an occupational disease. If a firefighter can show by convincing evidence, including relevant medical data, that the cancer diagnoses is traceable to his or her performance of job duties in the occupation, then workers’ compensation benefits will likely be payable.
Understanding Workers’ Compensation Basics
Under Georgia law, the workers’ compensation system is an employee’s sole remedy against his or her employer for an injury, illness or disability sustained at the workplace. In other words, employees who are injured on the job are not allowed to seek damages against the employer in court – with very few exceptions – for any injuries resulting from the workplace. In order to begin the lengthy process of filing a workers’ compensation claim, an injured employee must report the injuries sustained to his or her supervisor.
Moreover, many workers do not know that they cannot visit their own doctors for medical treatment relating to a workplace injury. On the contrary, employers are mandated to list the doctors who will examine the employee and who eventually decide on a treatment plan for the patient. Because these doctors are often representing the interests of the employers and insurance companies who hire them, it is not uncommon for injured workers to question the treatment being provided.
An injured worker should know that all medical expenses relating to procedures performed by workers’ compensation physicians related to the on-the-job injuries should be covered by the workers’ compensation insurance. In other words, an injured worker should not be paying out of pocket for treatment as long as he or she is in compliance with all of Georgia’s state requirements. Benefits should be provided to individuals who must be out of work due to the injury, if the doctor has excused him or her. Injuries that are temporary or permanent will also likely result in workers’ compensation benefits.
Savannah Workers’ Compensation Attorneys
Georgia’s workers’ compensation system is very complicated. For this reason, it is important that a seasoned Savannah workers’ compensation attorney is contacted right away if you or someone you know suffers an injury, illness or disability on the job. Questions may arise about the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim and what to do if a claim is denied in whole or in part. You should seek a skilled Savannah, GA work injury attorney who will protect your best interests throughout this process. The Georgia workers’ compensation lawyers at Bader Law Firm, LLC will help you determine whether or not you are getting the appropriate care you deserve, make sure you are receiving the benefits to which you are entitled under the law, and protect you from being forced to return back to work before you have fully recovered. Click here today to schedule your initial case evaluation.