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Court Finds Student Teacher Trainee Entitled to Workers’ Compensation Benefits

On Behalf of | Apr 25, 2018 | Workers' Compensation Case Law |

In some Georgia workers’ compensation cases, the question of whether an individual is an employee under the workers’ compensation act is not so clear. In a recent case, one state’s supreme court considered whether a student teacher was entitled to benefits despite not being paid for her position.

The Facts of the Case

The student teacher was in the process of obtaining her teacher’s license, which required she complete 12 weeks of student teaching. She was enrolled in a school that placed her in a classroom four days a week. She was required to submit an application for student teaching. The school principal and the classroom teacher were ultimately responsible for selecting the student teacher. The title of the position was referred to in various capacities as student teacher, intern, and preservice teacher. The student teacher was required to work the same hours as the mentor teacher and to attend staff meetings and school activities. She had a school identification car, school email address, and keys to the school, but she was not allowed to compose any documents that would become part of a student’s record.

The student teacher slipped and fell while at work, injuring her back, hip, and leg, and filed for workers’ compensation benefits. The school argued that she was not an employee and was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The workers’ compensation judge decided she was not an employee within the meaning of the workers’ compensation act, primarily since she was not paid for her work at the school.

The state’s supreme court reversed the decision, finding she was an employee despite not being paid for her work. The court acknowledged that she was required to show that she received “wages.” Yet the court found that the student teacher received an advantage in the form of the student teacher position, which had a monetary value to her, since it would allow her to obtain her teacher’s license. Therefore, the court sent the case back to the judge to determine the amount of benefits to which the student teacher was entitled.

The Definition of “Employee”

Under Georgia’s workers’ compensation act, an employee is generally defined as an actual employee, one who has employee status under the statute, one who has employee status through “employment by estoppel,” one who has employee status under the borrowed servant doctrine, and a statutorily defined employee. The general definition of employee under the act is an individual who is “in the service of another under any contract of hire or apprenticeship, written or implied,” unless the employment “is not in the usual course of the trade, business, occupation, or profession of the employer.” The claimant bears the burden of proving the existence of an employment relationship. However, Georgia courts have held that any doubt should be resolved in favor of the existence of an employer-employee relationship.

Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you have been injured on the job, you may be entitled to Georgia workers’ compensation benefits, even if you are not being paid or are not sure whether you qualify as an “employee.” At the Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., we have decades of experience in workers’ compensation claims. Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys can skillfully lead you through the process of obtaining benefits. Our Georgia law firm offers quality legal representation and responsive client service. For a free consultation, call us at 404-920-4708 or contact us through our online form.