Stephen Hasner | Workers' Compensation | November 29, 2016
Work-related accidents and injuries can happen to even the most skilled and experienced workers. They can also occur in any type of occupation.
The impact can be severe, leaving you facing mountains of medical and hospital bills while being unable to work due to your temporary or permanent disabilities.
Fortunately, if you have suffered an on-the-job injury or illness, Georgia workers’ compensation benefits can provide medical care and income replacement during the time it takes you to recover.
However, what happens if you are fired before your benefits are approved?
Georgia Is an Employment-at-Will State
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employees who work at a job without an express written contract between themselves and their employer can generally be fired without reason and without much notice.
This is referred to as the employment-at-will doctrine. It allows employers to fire workers for good cause, bad cause or even no cause at all.
Many states provide exceptions to this rule such as when:
- An implied contract exists between the worker and the employer
- The firing violates established public policies of the state.
Georgia is one of only a small handful of states that do not allow any of the above exceptions. Other than in cases that are a clear violation of state and federal anti-discrimination laws – firings based on age, sex, race, ethnicity or disability – workers have few rights when it comes to being terminated by their employer.
Being fired in retaliation for an on-the-job accident or injury or as a way of avoiding paying claims and benefits is not uncommon, and these types of actions are often used by unscrupulous employers as a way of avoiding costs and liability.
Your Right to Georgia Workers’ Compensation Benefits
While the employment-at-will doctrine does allow for employers to fire employees who become injured on the job, these workers still have the right to claim workers’ compensation benefits.
Under the Workers’ Compensation Statute and the guidelines of the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation (SBWC), employees injured at their workplace or during the course of their employment could receive benefits, depending on the situation and their medical condition.
These benefits are available to injured workers, regardless of whether they remain with their current employer.
If your injury was catastrophic in nature, such as a limb amputation, severe head injury, burns, paralysis, blindness or other severe and permanent disabilities, you may be entitled to lifetime benefits – even if you are able to return to work in some capacity at a future date.
Benefits you may be entitled to receive under the Georgia workers’ compensation program – even if you have been fired from your job – include:
- Medical benefits – Including costs of hospitalization as well as any ongoing care and treatment you require.
- Wage replacement benefits – Paid weekly and based on a percentage of your average wages.
- Rehabilitation benefits – In Catastrophic claims, you may receive job retraining in the event your injury prevents you from returning to your prior occupation.
- Disability benefits – For both temporary and long term disabilities.
- Death benefits – Provided to your family in the event that a worker’s injury or illness proves to be fatal.
What Should I Do If I Was Fired Without Receiving Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
In order to protect your rights to benefits when an on-the-job injury occurs, it is vitally important to follow the reporting guidelines exactly as outlined within the SBWC Employee Handbook.
The steps you must take include:
- Report your injury to a supervisor as soon as it occurs.
- Get medical care as soon as possible from an employer-approved provider.
- Provide written notice to your employer within 30 days of the accident.
- Follow all doctor instructions in terms of work restrictions and treatment.
In the event you were fired from your job before receiving benefits, you should take the following additional steps to ensure your rights to compensation are protected:
- Get the names and contact information for any witnesses to your accident.
- Get contact information for both your employer and its insurer.
- Send written notice of your injury via certified mail and request a return receipt, so you have evidence of when you sent it as well as when it was received by your employer.
- Request a claim reporting form to fill out and submit, either from your employer or from the SBWC.
- Request a written statement detailing why you were let go as well as copies of your employment records.
- Make sure your doctor is aware that your condition is work-related and that it is noted both on your chart as well as in the billing system.
- When you are cleared to return to work, keep records regarding applications and resumes you have submitted, including dates and company names.
If you fail to begin receiving benefits, you have the right to request a hearing. An administrative judge will hear testimony both from you and your employer or its insurance company and will make a decision based on the evidence in your case.
Before this type of hearing and anytime you are injured on the job and problems arise either with your employer or your benefits, getting the appropriate legal representation can help to ensure your rights are protected.