Will Georgia Employers Opt-Out of Workers’ Compensation responsibility?

A well-funded special interest lobbying coalition is pushing to eliminate the Georgia Workers’ Compensation System. As I wrote about a couple of months ago, the “Association of Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation” (ARAWC), funded by approximately two dozen national corporations is at the helm of this effort. In its drive to squash workers’ comp, the lobbying group desires that Georgia employers opt-out of workers’ compensation and their  responsibility to injured workers, by accepting a system recently adopted by Texas and Oklahoma. In those states, private companies are allowed to specify its own standards to determine a worker’s right to collect disability and medical benefits. Hence, every company would have different rules for its employees to follow. Moreover, if the employees fail to follow the company’s arbitrary procedures, the company may justifiably deny benefits. The onus is then on the injured worker to fight for benefits through a traditional law suit in State or Superior Court. This is vastly different as Georgia’s workers’ compensation system is governed by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. In fact, Georgia and the rest of the country formed or adopted the current workers’ compensation system due to the failures of the tenants of the proposed system. The Georgia State Board is exclusively dedicated to the adjudication and resolution of workers’ compensation claims. The State and Superior courts are generally over-extended with diverse cases ranging from criminal issues, land disputes, business conflicts, and domestic matters. If an injured worker was relegated to the State or Superior Court, the time needed to adjudicate the claims would be much longer given the volume of cases and lack...

Beware the slow erosion of workers’ comp

Remember the old frog in boiling water analogy? It’s meant to underline the danger of slow erosion. If a frog jumps in a pot of boiling water, it notices the heat immediately, and jumps out. However if a frog jumps into a pot of lukewarm water that heats up to boiling, it won’t notice the change, therefore won’t react. The amphibian is doomed. Hence lies the danger of the slow erosion of the workers’ compensation system. The changes we’re seeing in some states, largely led by lobbyists, may seem slow and subtle enough to not warrant alarm. But if we’re not careful, our working class citizens are doomed to a system designed to protect corporations- not workers. The lobbying organization, ARAWC (Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation) pictures happy and hard-working laborers on the home page of its website. ARAWC says it’s an organization that provides choice for workers and companies. They call it “an option.” The fact is, this organization’s mission is to pass laws allowing private employers to opt out of traditional workers’ compensation plans. That opens the door for companies to write their own plans, set their own rules and decide under what conditions an injured employee has access to medical benefits and wages. In other words, there is no benefit to an employee of a company who has bought into the “option.” There is benefit, however, to the companies which stand to save millions of dollars. Lobbyists have already helped write legislation in Tennessee, with more states, including Georgia on its target list. According to Mother Jones, a 2012 survey of Texas companies with...

Police officers and Firefighters denied benefits

Atlanta police and firefighters appear to have been kept in-the-dark on disability payments that may have been owed to them, according to WSB-TV. The retired and disabled men and women claim they’re owed more than $30,000, according to the news station. Some of the police officers and firefighters denied benefits say they had been misled about their eligibility for payments. Disability or Workers’ Compensation? The officers and firefighters reportedly say the insurance was part of a standard policy offered to city employees in the form of life insurance, but were eligible for payment if a disability forced them to leave the force early. Only one person out of many retired officers and firefighters interviewed had been made aware of the policy. In one case, a firefighter was told he was not eligible for the disability policy because he was on workers’ compensation. This is a good example of why it is important for injured workers, including our police and firefighters, to get third-party assistance and advice to ensure they are getting the benefits they need and deserve. Insurance companies—even those representing city workers—do not have the workers’ best interest at heart. The issue of whether a worker is eligible for both disability and workers’ compensation is not black and white. An attorney can look at the case and help devise the best solution for the injured person. We find it regrettable that our hard-working Georgia police officers and firefighters are not treated with the utmost respect, especially when injured on-the-job. The Ramos Law Firm has been advocating for injured workers for a decade. We practice 100% Georgia workers’ compensation...

Are Workers’ Comp benefits taxable in Georgia?

Georgia’s injured workers receiving benefits may wonder if their workers’ comp benefits are taxable. The good news is: workers’ compensation benefits are not normally considered taxable income at the state or federal level. Generally, IRS Code 104 states that amounts received under workers’ compensation acts in recompense for injuries or sickness are not considered income.  For example, an Atlanta employee suffering an occupational injury resulting in an entitlement of total disability benefits may receive, for instance, $12,000 in weekly income benefits. Her yearly W2 Wage and Tax Statement will not include that $12,000.  Additionally, should this Atlanta-based employee reach a settlement in her workers’ compensation case, the same IRS Code allows the settlement money to be tax sheltered. There is one exception to this rule, however. A portion of the workers’ compensation income may be taxable if the injured worker is also receiving benefits through Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), The combined workers’ comp and social security benefits need to remain below a certain threshold. In some cases, the Social Security Administration may reduce disability insurance payments to meet this threshold. The dollar amount of that reduction is what is considered to be taxable income of the workers’ compensation benefits. This is typically a relatively insignificant amount. However, every penny counts for injured workers who are off work. At the Ramos Law Firm, we recommend you speak to your tax professional for further details about your individual tax situation.  Generally, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can assist in structuring a settlement to maximize the non-taxable benefits. The Ramos Law Firm has been supporting Georgia’s...

Pain and Suffering Compensable in Workers’ Comp?

Getting injured on the job has long-term ramifications for many workers. In addition to loss of income, workers feel entitled to compensation for “pain and suffering” to make up for the emotional and physical toll and injury can take on them. So- is pain and suffering compensable in workers’ comp?  The truth is, the Georgia Workers’ Compensation law does not provide a remedy for the traditional notions of “pain and suffering” or “matters of equity”.  The workers’ compensation case cannot be brought before a jury of peers to determine lost opportunity costs (such as plans to go school or potential raises) or “inconvenience.” In a workers’ comp court hearing, an administrative law judge (or ALJ) listens to the evidence tendered by all parties.  The injured worker may testify as to the level of pain he or she is experiencing and how it has affected his or her life.  However, this testimony does not directly translate to compensation. After the testimonial and documentary evidence is tendered, the ALJ is then tasked with the duty of determining if the injury or accident is covered under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act wherein medical treatment and income benefits would be provided to the injured worker.  Additionally, the ALJ has the power to determine if the extent of the injury qualifies for a permanent impairment “rating”.  This rating must be determined in conjunction with the medical opinions relating to the injured workers’ limited range of motion and functionality.  It is crucial that your evidence is well thought out to maximize your chances of securing the best financial and physical recovery possible.  The Ramos Law Firm...

Workers’ Comp for Independent Contractors

An independent contractor is not considered to be an employee; and as a rule, is not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. However, there are factors to be considered in assessing workers’ comp for independent contractors. The definition of employee versus independent contractor has been the focus of a significant amount of litigation. The Court will consider all the facts surrounding the parties’ work relationship and expectations in order to determine if the contractor is eligible for benefits.  Essentially, the analysis will come down to whether the potential employer had “control and dominion” over the worker.  Some factors include: whether the potential employer controlled the worker’s schedule; required the worker to wear a uniform; withheld taxes; and generally supervised the worker’s daily tasks. If the worker is deemed to have been controlled by the potential employer, the worker would be classified as an employee.  Subsequently, if the employee suffers an injury that arose out of and in the course of employment, then the employee would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.  These benefits would include medical benefits as well as weekly income payments if the employee was missing work because of her injury. It is not uncommon for business to out-source projects or certain types of work to independent contractors. An independent contractor can fill in gaps during busy seasons, or add expertise that is not available in-house. Businesses get the benefit of avoiding payroll taxes on independent contractors. If you are an independent contractor that has been injured on the job, and you have questions about your eligibility for benefits, call The Ramos Law Firm for a free consultation...