The Georgia legislature made several changes to the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act in 2016. The changes made to the law include small increases to the following benefit limits:
- The maximum temporary total disability benefit rate
- The maximum temporary partial disability benefit rate
- The maximum total benefit payable to a surviving spouse as a sole dependent of a deceased injured worker
The legislature also made a few other changes to the workers’ compensation laws. One of the other changes attempted to make some small changes to Georgia’s occupational disease rules and to provide coverage to firefighters who developed cancer as a result of exposure to chemicals while performing their jobs.
Another change allowed employers who were certified as a work based learning employer to be eligible for up to a five percent discount on the cost of their workers’ compensation insurance premium. Two other changes revised the rules of the Self-insurers Guaranty Trust Fund and made administrative law judges of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct.
The change in the law to provide potential coverage for firefighters with cancer will not go into effect. Although the legislature approved the change, the bill was vetoed by Governor Deal in May.
However, the other changes in the law mentioned above should go into effect on July 1. So, what do all of these changes mean?
Increases in the maximum temporary total disability and temporary partial disability benefit rate
Employees unable to work as a result of workers’ compensation injuries receive temporary total disability benefits. These benefits are wage replacement benefits. Most employees receive roughly sixty-seven percent of their pre-injury wages while they are out of work.
Unfortunately, many employees do receive much less than sixty-seven percent of their pre-injury wages because Georgia has a maximum temporary total disability benefit rate. The change in the law will increase the maximum temporary total disability benefit to $575 for anyone injured after 7/1/16.
So, this means that employees making less than $862 a week should receive sixty-seven percent of their wages. But employees making over $862 a week on average are only going to receive $575 per week which will be under sixty-seven percent of what they make.
Georgia law also caps temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits. The highest weekly temporary partial disability benefit rate was $367. The change in the law will increase the maximum TPD rate to $383. It will only apply to employees injured after 7/1/16.
An insurance company usually has to pay temporary partial disability benefits when an employee is back at work but making less money because of a work injury. TPD benefits are also sometimes paid when an employee remains out of work because of an injury but the treating doctor says the employee could do some kind of light duty work.
Increases in the amount payable to a surviving spouse as a sole dependent
Unfortunately, some employees die as a result of work accidents. Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws provide benefits to an employee’s dependents when an employee dies.
Somtimes, the employee’s spouse is the only dependent. The change in the law affects the maximum total benefit payable to a surviving spouse as the employee’s sole dependent after an employee dies as a result of a work accident. The change in the law increases the maximum total amount to $230,000.
You should understand at least two principles about this change. First, the $230,000 is a maximum amount payable. The benefits will be paid on a weekly basis based on the deceased employee’s average weekly wage but they will automatically stop when they reach $230,000. They can also stop beforehand if the spouse is no longer dependent.
The second important thing to understand is that this $230,000 cap does not apply in some situations. The primary situation where it does not apply is where there are other dependents. Since the surviving spouse may only be able to pursue a workers’ compensation dependency claim (even if the employee’s death was a result of the employer’s negligence), it is important to make sure the insurance company pays the proper amount of workers’ compensation dependency benefits.
The Self-insurer’s Guaranty Trust Fund
A number of changes were made to portions of Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws that apply to the Self-insurer’s Guaranty Trust Fund. I am not going to discuss the specific changes made. Instead, I think it is important to just understand what the Self-insurer’s Guaranty Trust Fund, or SIGTF, is.
Some larger employers are able to “self-insure” for workers’ compensation coverage. This means they do not purchase workers’ compensation insurance like most employers. Instead, they pay workers’ compensation benefits themselves when one of their employees is injured at work.
This works fine except when the self-insured employer runs into problems and does not have the money to pay workers’ compensation benefits. The Georgia legislature created the Self-insurer’s Guaranty Trust Fund (SIGTF) to address that problem. SIGTF pays workers’ compensation benefits to injured employees of self-insured employers when the employer becomes insolvent.
There is also a similar organization known as the Georgia Insurers Insolvency Pool that pays workers’ compensation benefits to injured employees when an insurance company goes insolvent.
Will the Georgia legislature make more changes to Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws in the future?
Probably so. The Georgia legislature usually makes some changes to Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws each year. The legislature changed the laws somewhat last year. We make it a habit to monitor potential changes in the law so we can make sure Georgians injured on the job are treated as fairly as possible.
Jason Perkins is an attorney who specializes in representing injured workers. He regularly blogs about Georgia’s workers’ compensation system and issues that are important to injured workers and their families.
You can subscribe to his Georgia Workers Compensation channel on YouTube.