The 2016 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 818, House Bill 402, and House Bill 216, all which revise portions of the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act. The relevant changes in the law take effect July 1, 2016.
1. Change in Benefit Rates
House Bill 818 increased the maximum amount of both forms of income benefits. For all accidents occurring on or after July 1, 2016, the new maximum Temporary Total Disability (TTD) rate is increased to $575.00 per week. The new maximum Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) rate is increased to $383.00 per week.
2. Change in Death Benefits
Pursuant to House Bill 818, effective July 1, 2016, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265(d) provides the maximum compensation payable to a surviving spouse as a sole dependent at the time of the employee’s death is increased from $220,000 to $230,000.00.
3. Changes in qualifications for self-insured status and the Self-Insured Guaranty Trust Fund
House Bill 818 also clarifies the State Board’s authority to grant or deny self-insurance status based upon the applicant’s exposure, liability, and financial ability to pay. This bill was enacted to clarify which applicants are truly qualified for coverage under the Georgia Self-Insurers Guaranty Trust Fund in the event of insolvency and to achieve consistency in the definition of certain terms.
O.C.G.A. § 34-9-121(a) was revised to state a self-insured employer must “provide the board with sufficient information for the board to make an adequate assessment of the employer’s workers’ compensation exposure and liabilities and shall further provide evidence satisfactory to the board of such employer’s financial ability to pay the compensation directly in the amount and manner and when due.”
Revisions to O.C.G.A. § 34-9-381 further clarified the definitions relative to the Self-Insurers Guaranty Trust Fund. These new definitions included the exclusion of Professional Employment Organizations (PEOs), Assigned Staffing Organizations (ASOs), or similar entities from the definition of “self-insurers” to the extent such organizations would not qualify for acceptance into the Self-Insured Guaranty Trust Fund.
4. Encouragement of Work-Based Learning Program
House Bill 402 was enacted to encourage employers to provide work-based learning opportunities for students 16 and older. The program has reportedly been a success thus far in shepherding students into the workforce that may not be necessarily bound for post-secondary education. Effective July 1, 2016, under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-40.3, certification as a work-based learning employer and notification of such certification to the insurer provides for an optional premium reduction of up to 5 percent. The premium discount provided is applied pro rata as of the date the insured receives such notification and shall continue as long as the insured maintains certification.
The Workers’ Compensation Act was also amended under House Bill 402 to add new code sections under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-2.4, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-430, and O.C.G.A. § 34-9-431 to further define work-based learning placement, a work-based learning student, and a work-based learning employer. A work-based learning employer must enter a training agreement with one or more work-based learning student(s), develop a training plan in conjunction with a school’s work-based learning coordinator, assign a mentor to the work-based learning student, and provide workers’ compensation insurance for the work based learning student. Under an associated revision to O.C.G.A. § 34-9-432, self-insured employers can qualify for the premium discount if they comply with O.C.G.A. § 34-9-431, and all other provisions of the article.
5. Right to compensation for firefighters diagnosed with cancer
House Bill 216 was enacted to amend O.C.G.A. § 34-9-280, the occupational disease statute, in order to allow firefighters the opportunity to pursue and to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they have been diagnosed with cancer. As originally proposed, the Bill would have provided a presumption to firefighters for certain listed diseases. That version did not have enough support to move. A compromise effort shifted the presumption to a preponderance of evidence, limited the scope of diseases to cancer, and applied only to firefighters. In the Senate Insurance Committee and on the Senate floor debate, there was an effort to expand the scope of the exception to all employees (not just firefighters), to all diseases (not just cancer), but with an evidentiary standard of clear and convincing proof. That did not garner enough support, so the carve out exception that will become law is limited to firefighters, to cancer, and by a preponderance. Cancer was previously considered an ordinary disease of life, which was excluded from coverage as an occupational disease under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-280(d). The added language, however, provides an exception for firefighters. This exception specifically allows a firefighter to secure workers’ compensation benefits upon showing by a preponderance of evidence, including medical evidence, that a cancer diagnosis is attributable to the firefighter’s performance of his or her duties as a firefighter.
If you wish to further discuss these changes, please contact a Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers’ attorney at 404.874.8800 or via our website, www.swiftcurrie.com.
The foregoing is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the full effect of these changes. Nothing in this notice should be construed as legal advice. This document is intended only to notify our clients and other interested parties about important recent developments. Every effort has been made to ascertain the accuracy of the information contained within this notice.