Will Georgia Employers Opt-Out of Workers’ Compensation responsibility?

A well-funded special interest lobbying coalition is pushing to eliminate the Georgia Workers’ Compensation System. As I wrote about a couple of months ago, the “Association of Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation” (ARAWC), funded by approximately two dozen national corporations is at the helm of this effort. In its drive to squash workers’ comp, the lobbying group desires that Georgia employers opt-out of workers’ compensation and their  responsibility to injured workers, by accepting a system recently adopted by Texas and Oklahoma. In those states, private companies are allowed to specify its own standards to determine a worker’s right to collect disability and medical benefits. Hence, every company would have different rules for its employees to follow. Moreover, if the employees fail to follow the company’s arbitrary procedures, the company may justifiably deny benefits. The onus is then on the injured worker to fight for benefits through a traditional law suit in State or Superior Court.

This is vastly different as Georgia’s workers’ compensation system is governed by the State Board of Workers’ SBWCCompensation. In fact, Georgia and the rest of the country formed or adopted the current workers’ compensation system due to the failures of the tenants of the proposed system. The Georgia State Board is exclusively dedicated to the adjudication and resolution of workers’ compensation claims. The State and Superior courts are generally over-extended with diverse cases ranging from criminal issues, land disputes, business conflicts, and domestic matters. If an injured worker was relegated to the State or Superior Court, the time needed to adjudicate the claims would be much longer given the volume of cases and lack of specialized trained judges. As a result, the claimant would be unable to obtain medical care during the State Court process. To add insult to injury, the injured employee would likely be unable to earn income during that time.

Furthermore, corporations know the value of “declaring bankruptcy”. In the event a company, who “opted-out” of workers’ compensation, had a significant accident that injured or killed several of its workers, it would likely declare bankruptcy thereby leaving the affected workers without any relief.

Take for example the factory in West Texas that exploded. This company only carried a million dollar policy. However the medical bills and lost wages of the injured workers were well beyond the policy. If that company filed for bankruptcy, the injured workers and families would be left to share the meager insurance proceeds. This would not be the case under the current Georgia Workers’ Compensation System. The current law mandates that employers carry sufficient insurance and compensable claims would be paid out by the insurance companies regardless of whether of the Employer filed bankruptcy. In fact, if that insurance company, who wrote the workers’ compensation policy, filed for bankruptcy, Georgia has a mechanism that continues to protect the injured worker.

ARAWC is currently lobbying our neighboring states of Tennessee and South Carolina. Moreover, we understand that West Virginia is also a target. We should not allow this special interest group to cheat Georgia’s working class. Hard working Georgia’s deserve better than what ARAWC is trying to sell its legislators. At Ramos & Law, we are dedicated to protecting Georgia’s Working Class and we strongly urge you to contact your legislators should an “opt-out” bill finds its way to the Gold Dome.