A work injury or occupational illness can cause major disruptions to your life—not only your health, but also to your career, finances, and overall well-being. Fortunately, the Georgia workers’ compensation system is designed to compensate you for some of those losses and get you back to work as soon as possible. However, it also limits the amount of money you can receive from your employer. This article explains the types and amounts of benefits that are available through workers’ comp. (To get these benefits, you will need to report your injury as soon as possible, file a workers’ comp claim on time—usually within a year—and prove that your injury or illness is work related.)
Can You Get Workers' Comp Benefits in Georgia for COVID-19?
In some states, it may be possible to get workers' comp coverage for COVID-19 if you work in a particularly high-risk job like health care or emergency response, especially when in states with special (often temporary) rules making it easier for certain employees to qualify. Not so in Georgia, where workers' comp won't cover "ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed," or any disease to which you could have had substantial exposure away from work. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, those standards basically rule out getting benefits for COVID-19, even if you could prove that you were exposed to the virus at work.
If you’re unable to work because of a work-related injury or illness—or you can’t work at the same level as before—Georgia workers’ comp will pay you temporary total or partial disability benefits to replace part of your lost income.
You’re entitled to receive temporary total disability benefits if you can’t work because of your injury for at least seven days. The benefits usually don’t start until you’ve been out of work for that amount of time, but you can receive payment for the first seven days if you’re incapacitated for 21 straight days following the injury.
The amount of temporary total disability benefits will be equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wage before the injury, up to a maximum ($675 per week, as of July 2019). There’s also a minimum payment of $50 per week unless you earned less than that.
These benefits will generally continue until you’ve reached what’s known as “maximum medical improvement”—meaning that your condition has improved as much it’s going to with treatment. However, you can’t receive temporary disability payments for more than 400 weeks from the date of your injury, unless you’ve had a catastrophic injury like a severe head injury, severe burns, amputation of a limb, or paralysis from a spinal cord injury. (The maximum amount and duration of benefits do change periodically; you can check the current numbers on the "Benefits Information" section of the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation website.)
If you’re able to work but are earning less than before because of your injury, you can receive temporary partial disability benefits. The benefit amount is two-thirds of the difference between your average weekly earnings before and after your injury. For example, if you previously earned $1,100 per week but are now earning $500 for light-duty work, you can receive two-thirds of the difference ($600), or $400. There’s also a cap on these benefits—$450 per week for no more than 350 weeks from the injury date.
Once you’ve reached maximum medical improvement, your doctor will evaluate you to determine if you have any permanent disability and, if so, how much (expressed in a percentage of disability for each affected body part or for the whole body).
If you have a permanent and total disability, you could continue to receive weekly payments for life at the temporary total disability rate—or you might be able to receive a lump sum for the amount of your future payments (reduced to the present value of those benefits). Some severe injuries, such as blindness in both eyes or the loss of two limbs, are presumed to be permanent total disability.
If your permanent disability is partial, the amount of your income benefits will be the same as for temporary total disability—but only for a limited time. The duration of benefits is determined by the percentage of disability for each affected part of the body multiplied by the maximum number of weeks listed in a state schedule for body parts such as eyes, ears, and various extremities. For example, the schedule lists a total loss of use of a hand at 160 weeks. If you’ve only lost 50% of the use of a hand, you would receive benefits for 80 weeks.
If you have a permanent disability to part of your body that’s not listed—such as your head, spine, or organs—the duration of your permanent disability benefits will be based on the percentage of disability multiplied by 300 weeks, the maximum for disability “to the body as a whole.” (Although this is listed in Georgia’s schedule for permanent disability benefits, awards for the whole body are usually referred to as “unscheduled awards.”) For example, if your doctor gives you a 50% disability rating for a back injury, you will receive 150 weeks’ worth of benefits.
The same rules apply for permanent partial disability related to an occupational disease, except that there won’t be any compensation for partial loss of use of a listed body part or partial vision loss.
Workers’ comp pays for all reasonable and necessary medical treatment related to a work-related injury or illness, as long as it’s prescribed by your authorized treating physician. However, there’s a 400-week limit on most medical benefits unless your injury happened before July 2013 or is considered catastrophic under Georgia law. Other exceptions to the time limit include replacing prosthetic devices or durable medical equipment that was originally provided within the 400 weeks.
Georgia workers’ compensation also provides additional benefits, including:
As you can see, workers’ compensation only pays of a portion of your lost wages, and it doesn’t pay anything for the pain and suffering caused by your injury. While this may seem unfair, it is part of the trade-off that’s inherent in the workers’ comp system. The advantage of workers’ comp is that you can get benefits relatively quickly without needing to file a lawsuit or prove that your employer was at fault for causing your injury. The downside is that you can’t get the full value of your losses. (However, in some limited situations, you may be able to sue outside of the workers’ comp system to recover pain and suffering and other losses from a workplace injury.)