Many people assume incorrectly that their job status is protected if they file for workers’ compensation benefits after being injured on the job. Unfortunately, you can still be fired in Georgia even while receiving or awaiting workers’ compensation benefits.
However, being fired after suffering a workplace injury does not affect your eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits. If your employer terminates your employment and your workers’ compensation benefits are disrupted, then you should contact an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible.
Workers’ compensation is a complex benefit program that provides disability payments and medical treatment to employees injured in workplace accidents. Many employers in Georgia may try to dispute legitimate workers’ comp claims, particularly after costly injuries they expect to drive up their insurance premiums.
The workers’ compensation attorneys at Gregory Smith Law, LLC in Augusta, Georgia can help you appeal a denied claim or seek to resolve any issues that might keep you from receiving full benefits. Our firm is 100% devoted to protecting workers’ rights. Attorney Gregory Smith has more than 25 years of experience helping injured workers and their families in Augusta get back on their feet after work-related injuries.
Workers’ Compensation and ‘At-Will’ Employment in Georgia
Georgia is known as an “at-will” work state. Generally, this means an employer has the right to terminate an employee at any time with or without cause. Similarly, the employee is free to quit their employment at any time with or without cause.
There are federal and state anti-discrimination laws that limit an employer’s at-will employment rights. An employee cannot be fired because of their race, sex, religion, national origin, or membership in any protected class.
Otherwise, unless you have an employment contract, your job could disappear at any time.
Your workers’ compensation claim does not depend on keeping your job. Many seriously injured Georgia residents are terminated from their employment and continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Some of these benefits include:
- Payment or reimbursement for all medical costs related to your work injury. Georgia law prohibits medical providers from billing workers’ comp patients. Once you notify your doctor(s) that you are on workers’ comp, you should never receive a bill.
- Disability payments while you are unable to work. This is typically a weekly check for two-thirds of what you were being paid before your injury.
You Can Still Lose Georgia Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Most employees in Georgia are covered by workers’ compensation insurance, and it is a no-fault system, meaning you are entitled to benefits regardless of who was responsible for your injury. But your eligibility for benefits after being injured on the job is not ironclad.
Workers’ compensation will not provide benefits for an injury or accident resulting from an employee’s willful misconduct, such as:
- Injuries caused by drug or alcohol use.
Workers’ comp will also likely be denied for an injury caused by the willful act of a third party for personal reasons (e.g., assault, domestic violence).
Failure to Cooperate with the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act
Failure to cooperate with the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act can result in termination of your benefits. The objective of workers’ compensation is to support the injured worker so that he or she will recover and resume gainful employment, if possible, and be financially stable while unable to work. Therefore, you may jeopardize your benefits by:
- Failing to report an injury promptly. You should report your injury to your employer ASAP. Obtain and fill out the paperwork required by your company and forward it as directed for processing.
- Failing to cooperate with your employer and the authorized treating physician regarding medical evaluations, treatment, rehabilitation and investigation of your claim. This includes refusing to submit to medical exams by the authorized treating physician or independent medical exams.
- Refusing to return to suitable employment. Your authorized treating physician may declare you able to return to a “light duty” position. if such work is made available within certain conditions, and you do not attempt it, your disability benefits will stop. If the light duty position pays less than your previous work, you will be entitled to receive benefits up to two-thirds of the wage difference in the “full duty” and “light duty” jobs.
- Working elsewhere while receiving Temporary Total Disability Benefits. You could also be criminally charged with fraud.
- Refusing to take a drug or alcohol test within a prescribed period of time after an accident (O.C.G.A. § 34-9-17(b)(3).
Contact Us About Problems with Your Georgia Employer or a Workplace Injury
It is not unusual for employers to dispute legitimate workers’ compensation claims, and many employers might question continued payments to a terminated employee. But you have a right to financial benefits if you have suffered an injury while on the job in Georgia, regardless of your employment status afterward.
At Gregory Smith Law, LLC, our Augusta workers’ compensation lawyer can help you file your claim and ensure you receive the benefits you deserve. If your claim has been denied, we can represent you in all necessary hearings or appeals.