Breaking mandatory insurance laws in Georgia can mean steep fines and other penalties
Most people have at least heard of workers’ compensation, even if they aren’t familiar with the specifics of their state’s law or their company’s policy regarding workers’ compensation benefits. So when they get hurt on the job or are diagnosed with an occupational illness, they generally expect to receive some form of help from their employer in the form of financial assistance and monetary compensation for medical bills and lost wages.
Understandably then, it comes as a shock if your boss or company tells you that they don’t carry workers’ compensation insurance and you’re on your own. Is this even legal?
While not all employers in Georgia have to carry workers’ compensation insurance, most do. To help enforce this mandate, there are strict fines and other penalties that businesses may face if they are found to be disobeying the state’s workers’ compensation rules and requirements.
Georgia workers’ compensation requirements and laws
Under Georgia workers’ compensation laws for employers, most businesses that regularly employ at least 3 people must carry workers’ compensation insurance. These 3 employees do not need to be permanent or full-time as long as they work for the business on a regular basis, even part-time. The law doesn’t consider the weekly wages the employee receives as long as they work for the business regularly.
In incorporated businesses, the law considers corporate officers as employees, and they deserve compensation in case of an injury. According to the law, up to 5 corporate officers can waive coverage on themselves. Even if these corporate officers waive their coverage, the law still recognizes that the business has 3 or more employees.
For businesses with fewer than 3 regular employees, the law does not enforce any penalties. Such businesses can decide whether or not to buy insurance for their employees.
Employees who only work on weekends and those on short recurrent contracts are also recognized as employees of a business. Sole entrepreneurs and partners are considered employers (not employees), so they do not count towards a business’s workers’ compensation requirements.
The State Board of Workers’ Compensation oversees the workers’ compensation system in Georgia. The Board is responsible for ensuring that all required employers are compliant with state law.
In addition to providing coverage, the employer also needs to post a notice somewhere in the workplace where everyone can see to show that they are compliant. In the notice, the employer should display the name of their insurance company or the self-insurance certificate in a place such as the entrance or common noticeboard for everyone to see.
The employer is also required to clearly post the State Board’s Workers’ Compensation Bill of Rights for employees to read.
What happens if an employer doesn’t have required workers’ compensation?
The State Board of Workers’ Compensation has set the following penalties for Georgia-based employers and companies that are not compliant with state law:
Liability and civil penalties
If a worker sustains injuries at the workplace and the employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance, the State Board can assess:
- Fines. If an employer deliberately fails to submit the required forms to the Board, or they fail to follow the set regulations under Georgia law, they can face civil penalties ranging between $100 and $1,000 per violation.
- Civil penalties. If the employer deliberately denies workers’ compensation benefits after an injury, or they make false and misleading statements, the State Board can issue a civil penalty of between $1,000 and $10,000 per violation. When an employer intentionally fails to purchase workers’ compensation insurance coverage, the Board can fine them $500 to $5,000 per violation.
In addition, the Board may issue a 10 percent increase in compensation to the injured worker.
It is the role of the Board to assess every violation and determine the amount of the fine that a business should pay.
Criminal penalties for not having workers’ compensation
Employers who deliberately fail to provide workers’ compensation coverage when required by the State Board to do so are subject to criminal penalties as well. If an employer deliberately fails to provide coverage for employees, they are guilty of a misdemeanor offense. If sued and found guilty, the employer may face a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 and/or a prison term of up to a year.
How to anonymously report your employer for not having coverage
Employees who believe that their employers have failed to provide workers’ compensation as required by the state of Georgia can anonymously report their employer to the State Board’s Enforcement Division by filling out a Fraud & Non-Compliance Reporting Form and sending it via email, fax or mail to:
State Board of Workers’ Compensation
270 Peachtree Street, N.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-1299
Fax: (404) 651-7390
Suing an employer for workplace injuries
Workers’ compensation is intended to cover the following expenses:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Job retraining costs
- Permanent injuries or disabilities
- Death benefits for the dependents
If a company doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance, the employee misses out on all the above benefits. Instead, the injured employee can choose to sue their employer in court.
The advantage of suing your employer is that you can get full compensation for the lost wages—unlike the workers’ compensation, which only covers two-thirds of lost wages due to injuries. What’s more, when an employee sues their employer in civil court, they can also collect compensation for non-economic damages which are not provided by workers’ compensation such as pain and suffering and emotional distress.
In addition, if you or your attorney can prove that your employer failed to offer workers’ compensation to employees despite being required by the state to do so, you may have a chance of collecting punitive damages.
While there are some benefits to suing your employer, there are also some downsides. For instance, obtaining compensation through the civil court generally takes much longer than workers’ compensation. Court cases can take a few months to a few years to resolve. Also, the liability standards in a civil case are more strict for the injured worker, as their settlement or award can ultimately be reduced based on their degree of fault.
Social Security and workers’ compensation in Georgia
Whether or not an injured worker opts to sue their employer, they may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance covers some temporary and permanent cases of disability. This federal insurance program provides monetary benefits to help provide for American citizens who are temporarily or permanently unable to work. In certain cases, the program can pay the medical bills of the injured employee through the Uninsured Employers’ Fund.