Whether an individual qualifies as an “employee” under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act is not always a straightforward determination. Although some individuals clearly fall within the definition of employee, and others are statutorily defined as employees under the Act, some workers can have a hard time proving their employee status, preventing them from recovering workers’ compensation benefits. In a recent appellate decision, one court considered whether a volunteer driver who was involved in a serious car accident fell under that state’s definition of employee.
In that case, the county’s transportation agency had a program that transported residents to medical and other appointments through the use of volunteer drivers. The claimant applied to be a driver in the volunteer program. On the application, she stated that she was working “too much” as a volunteer guardian ad litem “w/o pay” and “[n]eed[ed] [a] little extra.”
The county’s volunteer manual stated that there was no employment contract between the county and the volunteer driver. As a volunteer driver, the claimant received around $260 per week, which was based on her mileage each week. Drivers were required to submit a record of miles driven and received money based on the miles driven. The driver’s manual referred to the payment as reimbursement. It was the only form of payment between the county and the drivers.
The claimant sustained significant injuries in the car accident, including a broken neck, broken ribs, and a fractured spine. She filed for workers’ compensation benefits, but the county argued she was ineligible for benefits because she was not an “employee” under the state’s workers’ compensation act.
The state’s supreme court held that she was not an employee because she did not receive “wages.” The court explained that the payments she received were based on the number of miles she drove and were calculated based on the federally established mileage rate. Therefore, the court determined that the payments were a “reimbursement” rather than wages, and she was not an employee under the state’s workers’ compensation act and did not qualify for benefits.
Determining Employee Status Under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act
The Workers’ Compensation Act in Georgia defines an “employee” under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1 as “every person in the service of another under any contract of hire or apprenticeship, written or implied,” subject to certain exceptions. Generally, an employment relationship requires a contract, or an agreement, between the parties, as well as payment for services. However, what qualifies as an agreement and as payment is not always clear, as the case above demonstrates. Importantly, in Georgia workers’ compensation cases, the claimant has the burden of proving that an employment relationship exists.
Have You Been Injured in a Work Accident?
If you have been injured in a Georgia workplace accident, you may be eligible for benefits through the workers’ compensation program. Even if you were not being paid in a traditional manner, or are not sure whether you qualify as an employee, you may still be entitled to benefits. At the law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., we handle all types of Georgia workers’ compensation claims, from the straightforward to the exceedingly complex. Our Georgia law firm offers quality legal representation and responsive client service. We are friendly, approachable attorneys who take the time to talk to you about your concerns. For a free consultation, call us at 404-920-4708 or contact us through our online form.