The law relating to workers’ compensation in Georgia changes in some respect almost every year. This year is no different. This year the Georgia Legislature with assistance from the State Board of Workers’ Compensation’s Advisory Council, amended several statutes relevant to the day-to-day handling of workers’ compensation claims. This year’s changes go into effect on July 1.
Amanda Yenerall, an attorney and partner with Stewart, Melvin & Frost, specializes in workers’ compensation law, representing employers, insurers and third-party administrators. Amanda joins us this morning to explain the changes.
Question: Amanda, of the changes to the workers’ compensation law, what is one that can benefit business owners?
Amanda: One of the new laws gives employers up to a 5 percent reduction in their premium for workers’ compensation insurance if they provide work-based learning opportunities for students 16 and older. To get the reduction in the premium, the insured has to be certified as a work-based learning employer by the State Board of Education which then informs the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. (The employer will notify its insurer in writing of the certification)
The employer gets a pro rata premium discount as of the date the certification is granted and continues to receive the discount as long as the certification is maintained. Employers who are self-insured for purposes of workers’ compensation can qualify get the discount.
The benefit to employers of offering Work-Based Learning include having a better-trained, more productive workforce; it’s a skill developer for current employees, as they serve as trainers and mentors for the work based learning students; it promotes a partnership between industry and education, and now is complimented with a benefit from the workers’ compensation system.
Question: There was a bill that was going through the state legislature to expand workers’ compensation benefits for firefighters diagnosed with cancer. Can you give us an update on that?
Amanda: yes, House Bill 216 sought to expand workers’ compensation benefits to cover for firefighters diagnosed with cancer if it could be proved by medical evidence that the cancer was more likely than not, caused from exposure to any risk factor while performing work related duties.
However, Governor Deal vetoed the bill. His concern was the law had the potential to exhaust the State Board of Workers’ Compensation and the state judicial system with litigation at the expense of cities and counties. When he vetoed the bill, the Governor in his official veto statement said he was unaware of any firefighter that had filed a workers’ compensation claim for a cancer diagnosis.
Question: Were there any changes to the workers’ compensation laws concerning self-insured employers?
Amanda: Yes. According to House Bill 818, Professional Employment Organizations (PEOs), Assigned Staffing Organizations and similar entities are excluded from the definition of employers who can self-insure for purposes of workers’ compensation. For those unfamiliar with what a PEO is, a PEO provides dedicated human resources management, and handles all employee management tasks on behalf on an employer, benefits, payroll, recruiting, training, risk management, and workers’ compensations. In Georgia now, PEOs and similar entities are ineligible to be self-insured because the risk fluctuation associated with these entities. For instance, one day a PEO could have 100 employees to manage and the next day, they could have 10,000.
Question: What other changes should we be aware of?
Amanda: as of July 1, 2016, weekly Temporary Total Disability benefits will increase from $550 to $575 per week while weekly Total Partial Disability benefits from $367 to $383 per week. Also, the maximum compensation payable to a surviving spouse as a sole dependent at the time of the employee’s work related death will increase from $220,000 to $230,000.