Workers’ compensation benefits are one of those things that nobody thinks about until they need them. This means that rights under the program are often misunderstood, which could affect your ability to access benefits in a timely manner.
Myth #1: Workers’ Compensation Is a Discretionary Benefit
Discretionary benefits are those which an employer is not required by law to offer, such as vacation time, retirement benefits, and tuition reimbursement. Workers’ compensation benefits are required by law.
Georgia law requires business with three or more workers to provide workers’ compensation benefits that begin on the first day of employment. Coverage includes full-time and part-time workers, as well as temporary and seasonal employees.
Myth #2: You Can’t Get Benefits If Your Injury Was Your Fault
Fault is not a factor in workers’ compensation cases. You can receive benefits even if your injury was your fault due to inattentiveness or inexperience.
The only exceptions to the no-fault system involve cases of drug or alcohol abuse. If you were intoxicated or otherwise impaired at the time the injury occurred, you will have a difficult time collecting benefits. A failed drug test creates a rebuttable presumption that your injuries were caused by substance abuse, which means you must be able to prove that your drug or alcohol use was not a factor before your claim will be approved.
Myth #3: You Can See Your Family Doctor for Treatment
Who you need to see for medical treatment after a work injury varies by state, although emergency medical care is always provided by the closest appropriate facility.
In Georgia, you must seek non-emergency treatment from a provider listed on your employer’s panel of physicians. This is group of at least six doctors your employer’s insurance company has selected for their experience in handling workers’ compensation claims. The panel of physicians is required to include one orthopedic surgeon and at least one minority physician with no more than two industrial clinics.
Some Georgia employers use a conformed panel or managed care organization (MCO). This is an expanded version of the panel of physicians, with 10 or more providers including at least one surgeon and chiropractor.
Myth #4: You Can Get Fired for Trying to Get Benefits
Firing a worker for being hurt on the job and attempting to receive workers’ compensation benefits is called retaliation. Federal and state laws impose stiff penalties for any employer who engages in this behavior. If your employer tries to fire you for seeking benefits, consult an attorney immediately.
Myth #5: You Can Wait to See If You Get Better Before You File a Claim
On the surface, it may seem sensible to wait to see if an injury is serious before you go through the hassle of filing a claim. However, this is a bad idea. Georgia law has strict time limits for filing a workers’ compensation claim. If you miss the deadline, you lose your eligibility for benefits—regardless of how serious your injury is.
You have 30 days to report a work injury to your employer. When you report your injury, your employer should provide you with information on seeking medical treatment from the panel of physicians.
An official claim isn’t filed until you provide the State Board of Workers’ Compensation with a Notice of Claim (Form WC-14). You have one year from the date of the injury or the date you last received medical treatment provided by your employer to file a Notice of Claim.
Myth #6: I Don’t Need an Attorney to Handle My Claim
In cases involving minor injuries where your employer isn’t contesting the fact that the injury qualifies for benefits and you don't miss any time from work, it may be possible to represent yourself. However, if your employer denies that your injury is work-related, if you’ve experienced retaliation for filing a claim, if your benefits are being denied by the workers’ compensation insurer, or if your injuries are serious enough to result in a loss of income or a permanent disability, having an experienced attorney who can advocate for your interests throughout the process is a must
Rechtman & Spevak’s attorneys are committed to helping injured Georgia workers process their workers’ compensation claims in a timely fashion. Please call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review.