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The Georgia workers’ compensation system protects employees who are injured on the job by replacing lost wages while they recover. The system works as a no-fault guarantee. The law entitles employees who can show they were hurt while working a portion of their earnings and paid medical care for their injuries. They needn’t prove their employer was negligent. In exchange for the no-fault guarantee, the law doesn’t allow employees to sue for negligence and collect far more than just lost wages and medical payments.

The State Board of Workers’ Compensation (http://sbwc.georgia.gov) administers the law, which the state legislature modified in 2006.

In some cases, employees aren’t entitled to workers’ compensation payments:

  • If they’re injured while intoxicated from alcohol or illegal drugs or refuse to submit to a drug test following the accident
  • If they’re injured while attempting to injure themselves or unlawfully injure another person
  • If their intent is to commit fraud to collect benefits

Georgia law doesn’t specifically require prime contractors to ensure that their subcontractors carry workers’ comp coverage. They would be wise to do so, however: If a subcontractor lacks coverage, its employees may collect benefits on the prime contractor’s insurance. The good news, however, is that the “exclusive remedy” provision of workers’ comp would kick in and protect the prime contractor from any further liability.

Unlike some other states, Georgia’s law provides equal benefits for both mental and physical injuries. That means employers may need to pay workers’ comp benefits for workplace stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Georgia law works in concert with other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers with at least 15 employees must make reasonable accommodations for workers who can’t perform their jobs’ essential functions.

Virtually all Georgia employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance. Even sole proprietors who employ another person must provide coverage or be approved for self-insurance. Large companies may opt to self-insure, but the law requires them to post bonds and provide detailed information to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.

Tips for reducing workers’ comp costs

One way to reduce your workers’ compensation costs is to encourage employees to return to work as soon as they’re able. You can, for example, make available light-duty positions for injured employees who may not be ready to return to more demanding positions.

Work with your insurance carrier to develop a light-duty program.

ADA, FMLA and workers’ compensation

Employees injured at work may also be disabled under the ADA and the Georgia Equal Employment for People with Disabilities Code, as well as qualify under the FMLA for a serious medical condition. So, HR professionals should make sure they coordinate any unpaid leave and reasonable accommodations, such as light-duty work or intermittent leave, with the insurance carrier.

It’s important to coordinate those claims. Nothing will sink a case faster than evidence that an employer acquiesced to a workers’ comp claim but refused to allow an FMLA claim for the same condition.

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 Excerpted from Georgia's 11 Most Critical Employment Laws, a special bonus report available to subscribers of HR Specialist: Georgia Employment Law.

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