The workers' compensation system in Georgia has long been established as a means to protect workers and to ensure that they have medical bills and costs covered if they suffer a disabling injury at work. Unfortunately, some recent changes to the Georgia workers' compensation law limit the rights of workers to be provided with full benefits after experiencing a workplace injury.
Our Atlanta work injury lawyers know that the Governor signed House Bill 154 into law on May 6th, 2013. Understanding the implications of this law and how it will affect your workers' compensation claim is very important.
Georgia Workers' Compensation Changes
HB 154 was proposed this year by lawmakers to make some important alterations to existing Georgia workers' compensation laws. After passing the House and the Senate, the law went to the Governor and was signed.
Some of the changes that are made by HB 154 are positive changes that can help workers. For example, the weekly benefits for the disabled were raised to $525 and to $350 for those who have a partial/temporary disability. An increase in the weekly benefits maximums is a very good thing for workers struggling to get by under the prior limitations on weekly income from workers' compensation.
The law also mandates that an employee who is entitled to reimbursement for mileage must receive repayment in a timely manner. According to the rules set by HB 154, reimbursements that are due for mileage need to be paid within 15 days from the date when the employer receives reports.
Unfortunately, while the law did some good things for injured workers, it also did some bad things as well. One of those things was to limit the length of compensation to 400 weeks maximum. Under the new law, therefore, anyone who experiences a non-catastrophic injury after July 1, 2013 will be restricted to being compensated for just 400 weeks from the date that the injury first entitled him to benefits.
The new law also changed the rules as far as employees attempting to return to work. Under the Georgia Workers' Compensation laws, an employee may return to work and do light duty or return on restricted duty even if the employee has not yet fully recovered from his injuries. There is a formal process employers can use to get an employee back to work, which includes making a "240 offer of light duty." Essentially, when employers make this offer, the worker can be compelled to try the light duty job. If the employee is able to do the job, then ongoing workers' comp disability benefits will be reduced or eliminated.
This process has been susceptible to problems especially since employers are required to resume paying benefits if an employee cannot perform the job for 15 days. Some employees were allegedly taking advantage of this, making a token attempt to do the light duty job for around 20 minutes or so and then claiming pain and going home. HB 154 said that if an employee attempts to perform the job for less than eight cumulative hours or for less than one scheduled workday, the employer can suspend benefits. The employer can also suspend benefits if the employee refuses to attempt the job. In any of these cases when benefits are suspended, the employee will now have the burden of proving continued eligibility for benefits.
The problem, of course, is that many injured victims really are in pain and cannot work for even 20 minutes, even at a light duty job. This can cause serious hardship for the sickest and most disabled if their employers try to force them back to work. If your benefits are stopped as a result of this new law, it is important to talk to an attorney since you'll now have the burden of proving your need for ongoing benefits.