Government workers’ rights when they’re hurt on the job in Georgia
More than 68,000 people work for the state of Georgia, while nearly 137,000 are employed by the federal government. Government workers encompass everything from postal employees to forestry and agricultural workers, and a number of other occupations in between.
Knowing the ins and outs of workers’ compensation for government employees is essential for anyone who works for a state or federal agency in Georgia.
What is the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA)?
Federal employees in Georgia do not draw workers’ compensation from the same statewide program as most other workers. Instead, they are eligible for benefits under the Federal Employees Compensation Act. FECA, for short, provides benefits for those who are injured on the job as a federal employee and covers workplace injuries as well as occupational illness and diseases that arise due to someone’s employment.
Typically, you will receive Continuation of Pay (COP) benefits from your federal agency during the first 45 days you are off from work. After that, you should begin receiving benefits under FECA. You may also receive additional benefits, including federal workers’ comp settlements if you suffer a permanent partial or permanent total disability.
Certain federal workers are ineligible for FECA. These include:
- Military service members
- Federal government contractors
- Railroad workers
- Coal miners
- Harbor workers
Just because you belong to an excluded group doesn’t mean you are not eligible for benefits though. For example, government contractors often have coverage through their own employers, and railroad workers may be covered under a different federal program called the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). Similarly, harbor workers may be covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).
Workers’ compensation for injured postal workers
Postal workers make up one of the biggest categories of federal employees in Georgia, with more than 15,000 Georgians employed by the U.S. Postal Service. In 2020, the postal service employed nearly 6,000 workers in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area alone, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (source). Atlanta is also home to 1 of 22 Network Distribution Centers (NDC), which distributes mail and packages nationwide.
Unfortunately, thousands of postal workers are injured on the job each year. In fact, postal workers accounted for roughly half of all federal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2019, even though they only make up about 20 percent of the federal workforce. This data from the Department of Labor clearly shows that postal workers face increased injury rates.
Some of the most common causes of injuries include:
- Dog bites/animal attacks
- Car accidents
- Slip, trip and falls
- Repetitive stress injuries and overexertion
As federal employees, all postal workers in Georgia and nationwide are eligible for wage loss compensation and medical benefits through the Federal Employees Compensation Act—not the state workers’ compensation system.
The Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation (DFEC), a department within the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), is responsible for handling claims submitted by injured postal workers and their families.
After being notified of an injury, USPS is required by law to provide injured postal workers with the forms they need to file a claim with the OWCP. If these forms aren’t provided to you for whatever reason, you can find them on the Department of Labor website.
Typically, injured postal workers will need to complete and submit 1 of 2 forms:
- CA-1 (Federal Employee’s Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation) — if you suffered a traumatic injury
- CA-1 (Notice of Occupational Disease and Claim for Compensation) — if you were diagnosed with an occupational disease
Injured postal workers have 3 years from the date of the injury or death to file a FECA claim for workers’ compensation or disability benefits.
According to the USPS’s own Employee Benefits Manual, injured postal workers are entitled to the following benefits under FECA:
- Continuation of pay (COP) for the period of the disability while DOL adjudicates the worker’s comp claim, up to a maximum of 45 calendar days, for a traumatic job–related injury. (COP payments are taxed since it is considered a standard wage, unlike workers’ comp benefits.)
- Compensation for wages lost as a result of job-related injury or disease or illness.
- Medical care for disability due to:
- Personal injuries sustained while in the performance of duty.
- Diseases proximately caused, aggravated, or accelerated by postal employment.
- Vocational rehabilitation.
- Death benefits including monetary compensation to specified survivors of an employee whose death results from a work-related injury or occupational disease or illness and payment of certain burial expenses.
- Compensation for “scheduled” injuries such as the permanent loss, or loss of use, of each of certain members, organs, and functions of the body.
Unfortunately, the Postal Service does not always process claims with the OWCP in an accurate and timely manner—as an internal USPS audit revealed in September 2020.
According to the audit:
“Management stated that field supervisors and district personnel missed these items during the payroll or claims approval process. In addition, the Postal Service workers’ compensation program is a manual process that heavily relies upon timely coordination and accurate information between district personnel, field supervisors, and employees.”
In other words, there’s plenty of room for human error in the USPS workers’ compensation process.
What’s more, in 2020 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that 44,000 postal workers were forced out of their jobs over the course of a 5-year program aimed at targeting employees who suffered workplace injuries and illnesses. The report showed that the USPS deliberately and methodically fought workers’ compensation claims from 2007 to 2011.
“Exactly how much USPS could owe the workers is unknown. The Postal Service’s latest financial report estimates $178 million in potential liability for its pending employment claims, including this case.”
If you wish to appeal a decision issued by the OWCP, there are several ways to go about this—starting with requesting an oral hearing, reviewing a written record, requesting reconsideration and filing a formal appeal with the Employees Compensation Appeals Board.
However, you should know that there are strict deadlines throughout the appeals process and it can take up to a year to resolve. Hiring an experienced attorney is vital if you wish to appeal a denied compensation claim.
Can postal workers get compensated for contracting COVID-19?
In March 2021, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which includes provisions allowing federal workers (including postal employees) to more easily obtain compensation through FECA for diagnosed COVID-19 illness and expenses.
Surprisingly, few claims have been filed to date for COVID-19 compensation, indicating that many postal workers aren’t aware of this coverage. If you work for the postal service and are diagnosed with COVID-19, you should file a claim now in case you suffer medical and financial impacts down the road due to long-term (or “long haul”) symptoms.
Do you need a lawyer?
The USPS workers’ compensation process can be tedious, frustrating and confusing. What’s more, not all workers’ compensation attorneys take federal cases. It’s important you consult with an attorney who specializes in federal workers’ compensation claims. If you are an injured postal worker seeking compensation, contact us today to schedule your free consultation.
Can a postal employee sue the post office for a work injury?
If a postal employee is hurt at work or diagnosed with an occupational disease, generally they cannot sue the USPS for work-related injuries and illnesses since benefits are automatically provided through FECA.
There are rare exceptions, however, where you might be able to file a lawsuit—such as if you were harassed by colleagues or injured by a third-party such as someone on your route. For instance, if you were hit by a car while delivering mail, you might be able to sue the at-fault driver in addition to being eligible for FECA benefits.
In some cases, federal employees (including postal workers) can file an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint for discrimination and harrassment. This is not the same thing as suing the post office, but it can provide a legal remedy in some situations.
How to file a work injury claim as a local or state government employee
What happens if you are a government worker and become injured in the course of your duties?
If you are a Georgia state employee, you should first notify your supervisor. Ideally, you should submit a written report no later than 1 month after the date of your accident or illness. Any delays could render you ineligible for benefits.
Your employer will have you file a Form WC-14 with the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation. After filing this form, send 1 copy to your employer and another to the insurance carrier. Retain another copy for your own files. After receiving the form, the insurance company will have 21 days in which to review your case and render a decision.
Many people feel uneasy about filling out the WC-14. Some will seek advice from a workers’ compensation attorney to ensure they have everything just right. If you need assistance with filing a claim, don’t hesitate to reach out to a qualified lawyer in your area.
How to file a FECA claim as an injured federal employee
Federal employees may file a FECA claim by completing 1 of 2 forms. The first is CA-1, which is the Federal Employee’s Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation.
The second is form CA-2, the Notice of Occupational Disease and Claim for Compensation. Naturally, the form you use will vary based upon whether you have an illness or injury.
According to FECA, claims must be filed within 3 years of your illness or injury. Determining the exact date of an illness is often difficult, which is why the statute of limitations begins on the date you become aware (or should have become aware) of your condition.
FECA claims are administered by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). This agency is a division of the Department of Labor (DOL).
Common challenges with government-related workers’ compensation claims
Workers’ compensation claims are more complex when they involve multiple government agencies. Accordingly, many Georgians discover that it often takes much longer to resolve their cases. Many times, having an experienced attorney can prevent claims from falling through the cracks.
Federal workers must sometimes deal with issues related to schedule awards or buying back leave time. These issues can also be complicated and in many cases are best dealt with by an attorney.
State and federal employees alike may find it difficult to follow up on their claim. They are often bounced from one agency to another and may, therefore, be confused as to who is handling what. Our knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorneys are very familiar with navigating these types of cases and can prove a tremendous asset when it comes to avoiding the run-around.
Having assistance with federal workers’ compensation claims could be especially helpful in the event you are also applying for Social Security Disability benefits. Our attorneys can ensure your settlement is structured in such a way that it doesn’t detract from SSDI.
When to hire an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation law firm
Georgia state and federal employees face unique challenges when it comes to filing a workers’ compensation claim. Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys understand these challenges and we are well-prepared to handle them. If you need assistance with filing a workers’ compensation or FECA claim, contact us today for your free consultation.