How is the Coronavirus Effecting Workers Compensation and Injured Workers in Georgia?

Morrison and Hughes Law Coronavirus Effect on Workers Compensation in Georgia

With the constantly evolving situation of COVID-19, there have been a few hot topics in the workers’ compensation system related to the Coronavirus’ effect on workers compensation in Georgia. To keep everyone informed and in on the conversation, we’ve gathered these topics and questions in a helpful Q&A format. For each question, we have also provided an expert tip from our workers’ compensation lawyers, which may help you deal with that issue.

Q: “I got hurt at work, so I have work restrictions. However, because of the coronavirus, my employer is not offering me a light duty job. What happens now?”

A: If you get hurt, and your doctor puts you on “no work” status, then the work Comp Insurer is required to start paying you a weekly wage replacement benefit. This is called a “TTD” Check, because you are (T)emporarily, (T)otally (D)isabled. Your doctor may later release you to work with restrictions (sometimes call sedentary, light, or moderate duty work). If you want to return to light duty work, but your employer doesn’t have a job to offer you, or cannot accommodate your restrictions, because of the coronavirus, then the insurance company is required to start paying you TTD benefits every week.

Expert Tip: Not being able to return to work may actually increase the settlement value of your claim. A lot! If you have permanent light duty work restrictions, and your employer goes bankrupt or downsizes due to the coronavirus, then the insurer could be stuck paying you benefits for years. That means the insurer will be highly motivated to settle! However, your employer may also try to use the current situation as an excuse to fire you, so we strongly recommend you consult with a workers’ compensation attorney during the coronavirus outbreak.

If you are on light duty, but your employer does not have a job for you, call us to determine the value of your case at 404-382-7439.  

Q: “I’m off work because of an on-the-job injury. My employer just sent my doctor a job description, asking her to release me to light duty work. I’m still hurt! Do I have to go back to work during the coronavirus pandemic?”

A: After a work accident, your doctor must put you on no work status for at least 7 days before you can start getting a weekly TTD check. However, once you are getting a weekly check, a light duty work release by the doctor, on its own, is not a lawful reason for the insurer to stop sending you that weekly check. That is, if you are getting a weekly check, then get released to light duty, this does NOT mean that you must return to work. In fact, returning to work may drastically reduce the value of your case.

Georgia provides some protection to workers in your situation. Before an insurer can cut off your weekly check, they have to jump through several hoops. First, the employer must provide the doctor with a light duty job description, which the doctor must approve. Second, the insurer must then file a correctly completed WC-240 Form, and send you a copy. There are many ways that the employer or insurance adjuster might do this incorrectly. However, if they do everything right, then you are required to at least attempt the job. If you fail to return to work, then the insurer can cut off your weekly TTD check. However, if you make a good faith attempt to return to work, and you are physically unable to do the job because of your work injuries, then the insurance company must reinstate your TTD benefits. This is a fairly complicated process under O.C.G.A. 34-9-240, and if you find yourself in this situation, you almost certainly need an attorney.

Expert Tip: During the coronavirus outbreak, the State Board of Workers’ Compensation is highly skeptical of any employer claiming that they want injured workers back on the job. This is because the governor, and various local governments, have asked non-essential industries to have their workers voluntarily quarantine or “shelter in place”. According to our sources, some of the workers’ compensation judges have suggested that no WC-240 job offer could possibly be valid right now. However, this coronavirus effect on workers compensation could rapidly change as the situation evolves.

Long story short, if you get a WC-240 form, call us at 404-382-7439.

Q: “I had a work accident, then returned to light duty work for the same employer. However, I recently got laid off, because my employer is struggling during the coronavirus outbreak”.  Can I still get medical care? Will I start getting a weekly benefits check again?

A: The first question, “Can I still get medical care”, has a simple answer: Yes, you are still entitled to medical care. Basically, whatever medical care your “authorized treating physician” prescribes, the insurance company must pay for. Whether you are entitled to TTD benefits again is a more complicated question. Will you start getting that weekly check again after the layoff? Under Georgia Law, an employer has an obligation to make light duty work available. If they can’t, and you are still hurt because of your work accident, then you are entitled to a weekly TTD check.

However, what if an injured worker is laid off for reasons unrelated to his work accident or injuries, such as a business closing due to coronavirus? Such situations are likely governed by a line of cases which began with Maloney v. Gordon County Farms, 265 Ga. 825 (1995). In that case, the Georgia Supreme Court addressed situations where an injured worker must perform a diligent job search, after getting laid off, in order to qualify for workers’ compensation income benefits (i.e. the weekly TTD check). Long story short, if you are laid off or terminated during the coronavirus outbreak, it is a good idea to keep a detailed job search log, and to perform a diligent job search. This may require you to perform multiple job searches and applications per day! Consult with a workers’ compensation attorney to find out whether you must perform a job search, and if so, how the job search must be completed and documented.

Expert Tip: In Georgia, as with most states, the injured worker typically gets stuck with a doctor from the employer’s “Panel of Physicians”. The Panel is a list of six (6) or more doctors, which must be prominently posted in the workplace. If the employer follows the rules regarding the Panel, then the employee must choose one of those few listed health care providers as their authorized treating physician (“ATP”). The workers’ compensation insurer is not required to pay for treatment by unauthorized doctors. And the doctors on the panel are almost always terrible. These doctors are beholden to the insurers who send them business. This means that a doctor from the panel of physicians probably cares more about the insurance company than you as a patient.  Fortunately, if your insurance doctor won’t see you in person during the coronavirus outbreak, leaving you without care, then an attorney might be able to change your doctor to one you get to pick. Any chance to get away from insurance doctors is one you should take.

If you dislike your insurer’s work comp doctor, we sympathize. Call us to discuss options to get you better medical care, at 404-382-7439.

A Final Note: As the saying goes, if you have lemons, make lemonade. The right workers compensation attorney can help you find ways that the coronavirus could actually make your workers’ compensation claim stronger or more valuable.

  • For more information on how to deal with doctor’s appointments during this outbreak, click here.
  • For information on how to get unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic, click here.
  • For information on terminations, lay-offs, and employment benefits available during the coronavirus outbreak, click here.

The coronavirus outbreak may help you get a higher settlement and better medical care, but you’ll probably need an attorney to act quickly. To discuss how the Coronavirus’ effect on workers’ compensation in Georgia relates to your situation, give us a call at 404-382-7439.