Stephen Hasner | Workers' Compensation | December 1, 2016
On-the-job injuries and illnesses can happen in any occupation. When they do, it can jeopardize your physical health as well as your financial security.
You may require ongoing medical care and treatment, while temporary or permanent disabilities can prevent you from returning to work or engaging in hobbies and activities with loved ones.
If you have been the victim of an on-the-job accident or suffered a work-related illness or injury, it is vitally important to be aware of your rights when it comes to pursuing workers’ compensation benefits.
Rights of Injured Workers in Georgia
According to the latest information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 80,000 workers each year in Georgia suffer on-the-job injuries or illnesses.
If you have suffered an injury on the job site or during the course of your employment, the workers’ compensation law can provide the help you need during your recovery.
The workers’ compensation law in Georgia is statutory but the system is administered by the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation (SBWC). The SBWC outlines the rights of injured workers in terms of applying for and receiving benefits. These rights include the following:
- The right to receive medical care for your injury or illness. This is provided through your employer, either through a panel of physicians or a Managed Care Organization (MCO), both of which offer a choice of providers.
- The right to have coverage for medical bills and expenses associated with your injury. This includes coverage for surgery, medications, physical therapy and even transportation costs to and from related appointments.
- The right to weekly income benefits. These benefits can replace a percentage of your lost wages while you recover. These benefits are generally calculated at two thirds of your regular wages. However, there are caps on the amount of benefits.
- The right to continue to receive benefits if your injuries require you to return to a lesser paying job. In total, you may be entitled to up to 400 weeks of of benefits for non-catastrophic injuries if you are completely unable to work. If you suffer severe injuries that result in permanent impairments and prevent you from working now and in the future, you may be entitled to receive lifetime benefits.
- The right of your family to receive benefits in the event of your death. In the event your injury or illness is fatal, your dependents would be entitled to receive benefits on your behalf.
- The right to have your claim filed by your employer. If your employer fails to report a claim once an employee’s injury has been reported, the employer may be fined a penalty.
- The right to appeal the decision if your workers’ compensation benefits are denied. In the event your claim is denied, you may request a hearing before an administrative judge who will hear testimony from all sides and render a decision based on the evidence in your case.
It is important to note that employees who are injured on the job or become ill during their employment have the right to receive workers’ compensation even if their own actions led to the injuries.
The SBWC Employee Handbook states that while employees who engage in fighting or horseplay on the job and those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol are not covered, injuries resulting from haste or inattentiveness do not make an employee ineligible for filing a claim.
Your Right to Workers’ Compensation Income Benefits
When considering income benefits an employee is entitled to receive, it is important to know that workers’ compensation covers catastrophic, or life-changing, injuries.
Catastrophic injuries include spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis, severe head injuries and burns as well as injuries that result in the loss of a limb or the loss of a faculty such as blindness.
When your injuries result in even partial impairments that prevent you from working or completing tasks at your job, you have the right to wage replacement through income disability benefits. According to the SBWC handbook, these benefits include:
- Temporary total disability – These benefits cover injuries that temporarily prevent you from working at all. If your injury is considered catastrophic, these benefits may be available on a permanent basis.
- Temporary partial disability – These benefits are available if your injuries require that you take a lesser paying job or if you are on light duty status by your doctor and the employer does not have work available.
- Permanent partial disability – These benefits apply if your injury results in a permanent impairment.
Your Responsibilities When Claiming Workers’ Compensation Benefits
While it is important to be aware of your rights when it comes to workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia, you need to be aware of your responsibilities as well. According to the SBWC handbook, these duties include the following:
- Follow safety rules and procedures as posted by your employer.
- Refrain from willful misconduct that could jeopardize your own or others’ safety.
- Report any accidents or on-the-job injuries immediately to your employer.
- Get medical care as soon as possible from an approved provider.
- Submit to a drug test if requested by your employer.
- Follow all your doctor’s instructions in terms of ongoing care and treatment.
- Notify your insurance carrier if you move or return to work, either at your previous place of employment or at another job.
- Refrain from engaging in activities which could aggravate or worsen your injury.
- Attempt a physician-approved job, even if it is at lower wages, if you are cleared to return to work and proper notice was sent.
- Submit proof of your job search if you are unable to find another job.
- Refrain from making any false statements about your injuries, your recovery or your ability to return to work. (False or misleading statements could end up in criminal charges being pressed, carrying heavy fines and a potential jail sentence.)
If you have questions regarding your injuries and your right to compensation, or if your claim has been delayed or denied, consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for immediate help.