The state of Georgia is one of many U.S. states where annual natural disasters historically include a series of tornadoes. Data reported by the Augusta Chronicle indicates that the state experienced 56 tornadoes in 2022 alone. The events caused $1.5 million dollars in damages, 15 injuries and one fatality.
Georgia tornadoes are once again wreaking havoc in 2023.
On March 26, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency as multiple tornadoes and severe thunderstorms ravaged Georgia’s central region. Due to the possibility of suffering further devastating storms, 23 counties in the area endured a tornado watch until the afternoon of the 26th. Tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and the possibility of flash floods continued to be a major concern through the following Monday. The events left more than 4,800 residents without power.
Are tornadoes covered under workers’ comp?
Each U.S. state has workers’ compensation laws that require certain employers to purchase insurance to protect their employees in the event of an on-the-job accident or injury. This workers’ compensation system is designed to provide injured employees with benefits without requiring them to prove negligence on behalf of an employer or business.
It’s undeniable that Georgia tornadoes, and other natural disasters, commonly cause injury, illness and death.
So are employees entitled to workers’ comp benefits if they’re injured during a tornado or other natural disaster at work?
The short answer is yes. Since injured workers don’t need to establish fault to get workers’ comp benefits, they should be eligible for compensation for an injury at work that results from an unforeseeable event or natural occurrence that was beyond anyone’s control.
Find out who is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia, and who is not (exceptions). What are the determining factors involved in eligibility?
What is an employer’s responsibility to a worker during a natural disaster?
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), employers and businesses are required to protect employees from workplace dangers, and this protection extends to the possibility of experiencing a natural disaster.
An employer ‘s responsibilities during a natural disaster include taking steps to prevent injuries and ensure the workplace is safe. As such, employers should have a plan in place for responding to natural disasters and communicating with their employees during an emergency.
They should also provide clear guidance on evacuation procedures and ensure that employees have access to necessary resources and support, such as shelter, food and medical assistance.
Employee rights following natural disasters
Because natural disasters can be widely disruptive to both work and home life, employees should educate themselves concerning their rights under the worker’s compensation program before a traumatic event occurs. Below are some employee rights you should be aware of after a natural disaster.
Following a natural disaster, recovery efforts often shift to rebuilding, so your work duties may change. If your job responsibilities have changed in response to a disaster, it’s crucial that you speak with your employer and verify that your workers’ compensation coverage remains intact under the company’s policy. In the event that your job transitions to a contractor role, you may no longer be eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
After a natural disaster, a business might suffer temporary or permanent closure, subsequently causing employees to lose wages. If you aren’t being paid while your company is in the process of cleaning up or rebuilding, you should explore your options for wage replacement, which may include filing a Georgian unemployment claim or a claim with the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program.
Tornadoes and other severe storms may cause extensive damage to the area surrounding a business and to the facility itself. Be aware that you cannot be forced to resume your former job duties until your workplace is safe. Ask your employer about the clean-up efforts and verify that your work environment no longer poses a danger before returning to work.
Consult a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
If you or a family member suffered an injury at work during a tornado or other natural disaster, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for lost wages and medical expenses while you recover. Unfortunately, legitimate workers’ comp claims are denied every day, and discouraged workers often give up and end up losing out on the money they need to provide for themselves and their families.
If you live in Atlanta and have any questions about your eligibility for workers’ compensation or need help filing a claim or appealing a claim that’s been denied, contact Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys. Our attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers across Georgia recover the compensation they deserve.