Lawmakers from two separate Georgia state committees recently met to discuss a proposal that would slash the amount of time injured workers have to pursue a claim with the state board of workers’ compensation.Currently, workers have up to five years to file a work injury claim with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. House Bill 536 would significantly cut that by more than half, down to 2 years.
The intent, say Republican backers, is to shorten the amount of time an employee can leave an employer and then file a workers’ compensation claim. Proponents of the measure say companies are burdening unfairly because insurance premiums are set higher in this state to cover for the extended risk of a claim. They argue that’s money that could be going to hire more workers or give additional raises.
The theory is flawed for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it assumes workers are manipulating the system. However, lawmakers presented no evidence that this was even an issue, let alone a major problem. In fact, numerous studies have shown that only about 1 to 2 percent of all workers’ compensation claims are fraudulent. Some states report fraudulent claims only account for one-tenth of one percent.
This is in addition to the fact that the cost of workers’ compensation insurance both nationally and in Georgia has fallen significantly in recent years. In fact, a recent analysis by the Occupational Health & Safety Administration revealed employers in Georgia are paying $2.12 cents less per unit of workers’ compensation insurance in 2014 than they were in 1988. That is despite inflation and despite the fact that workplace safety hasn’t improved all that much. We’re still seeing a significant number of Atlanta work injuries, and if anything, it’s gotten more difficult for workers to obtain rightful coverage.
Georgia legislators are trying to lessen the blow of their proposal by pointing out that Tennessee requires workers to file a workers’ compensation claim within just 30 days. Lawmakers say that is “extreme,” and contend they are only seeking a compromise.
But what they are trying to do is deprive workers with legitimate work-related injury claims of being able to secure benefits. The reality is that not all injuries are immediately apparent. Even if the symptoms do occur relatively quickly, the cause may not be immediately apparent. Those workers who suffer delayed symptoms or diagnoses would effectively be cut off from the compensation they deserve if H.B. 536 is successful.
Encouragingly, lawmakers are considering two bills (one in the Senate and one in the House) that do take into account the latency of certain occupational illnesses, such as mesothelioma, hepatitis, cancer, respiratory diseases and others. These proposals would effectively allow for automatic recovery of benefits – but only to police and firefighters. All others would still have to endure the normal process.
At this point, none of the measures have been approved. All have been referred to an advisory council established a decade ago by the state workers’ compensation board and comprised of attorneys, insurance companies and employers. The council typically reviews all labor-related legislation and makes recommendations before lawmakers move to vote or amend any pending legislation.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.