From the desk of Ben Gerber, Georgia workers’ compensation attorney:
What effects will the coronavirus (COVID-19) have on your workers’ compensation case?
We are currently getting a lot of questions about the effect that the coronavirus will have on workers’ compensation cases. A sampling of the questions we are being asked include:
- Will my weekly temporary total/temporary partial workers’ compensation checks continue to come?
- Do I have to go to my doctor’s appointment that has been scheduled?
- Can I go to my doctor’s appointment that has been scheduled?
- How do I continue to get medication that I need?
- Will my case go forward at the upcoming hearing?
- Has the mediation been cancelled?
In this article, we will aim to answer these questions based on current information. Remember, this pandemic is changing rapidly and federal mandates are trying to adjust accordingly. If you have a question about your specific workers’ compensation case, we advise you to contact your attorney for advice.
Ben: Hello, everyone. It’s Ben Gerber here with Natalie Elkins from Gerber and Holder, and today, we’re going to be talking about some topics related to COVID-19 and workers’ compensation. I know in the past we had done some videos on COVID-19 and the effects that it has had on the State Board of Workers’ Compensation and moving forward with a case, but today, Natalie and I are going to talk about the effects it’s going to have on your specific case, and I know, Natalie, you’ve been talking to lots of clients, and a lot of them have been asking you do they have to return to work right now even though COVID is still in existence and there is no therapy or cure at the present time, and so how do you respond to that?
Natalie: My response to that if you’re treating under workers’ compensation, then your workers’ compensation doctor’s restrictions are going to be controlling regarding whether or not you need to return to work with your employer. Now if you’re somebody that is at special risk, you may want to look at the employment rules pertaining to COVID-19 and see if maybe there’s compensation that you could receive under that avenue for missing work, but as far as workers’ compensation’s concerned, it’s going to be up to your authorized treating physician and their restriction recommendations.
Ben: Now what if I’m receiving benefits and my building, my plant or the office closes either temporarily or permanently because of COVID? Do I have to look for a job at that point in time?
Natalie: This is a question we’re getting a lot from our clients this week and over the past few months as well. If you are currently receiving workers’ compensation benefits and your employer either temporarily lets you go or closes up shop for good, then it should have no effect at all on your current entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits. In fact, in some cases, it’s my position that it makes the case worth more because the employer doesn’t have the potential to offer my client a light-duty job anymore. It can even give you some leverage in future settlement negotiations.
Ben: What other questions are you being asked by clients regarding COVID and returning to work?
Natalie: A few clients are finding themselves getting a new defense or being able to rebut a defense that the insurance company has. Specifically, if an insurance company is denying workers’ compensation benefits to a client based on the position that they have a light-duty job for my client and then they go under, well then they can’t raise that argument anymore, and I think, again, it gives my client more leverage in court or in any settlement negotiations that that argument no longer stands.
Ben: Okay, you’re a hundred percent correct. The light-duty job offer has to be open and continuous, and if the plant shuts down for any reason, including COVID-19 or something else, then it’s not open and available and benefits should be commenced. It doesn’t mean it will happen as we’d have learned, but nonetheless, benefits should be commenced.
Ben: If you have any questions about COVID-19 or anything else, please don’t hesitate to contact Natalie, myself or the other attorneys here at Gerber and Holder, and we can be reached at (678) 802-8650.
Important recommendations and notices
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released the following guidelines on March 15, 2020:
“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.
Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.
Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.”
The basic takeaway from the latest guideline is that people should maintain social distancing and attempt to modify events so that they will not be around large groups of people.
Unfortunately, these recommendations and guidelines directly impact many aspects of workers’ compensation claims.
Furthermore, On March 13, 2020, we received the following email from a judge at the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation:
“The Board is actively monitoring developments regarding COVID-19/Novel Coronavirus. The safety and wellbeing of our staff and visitors are of utmost concern. Our goal is to continue to carry out our daily business functions in the most responsible manner possible. In light of the current pandemic, the Board is postponing all hearings for the period Monday, March 16, 2020 through Friday March 27, 2020. Cases will be rescheduled to the next available date. (Emphasis added). If that date does not work for you or your clients/witnesses, please let us know and we will work with you to move the hearing to a different day and/or location. The Board will continue to monitor this situation in accordance with state and federal guidelines. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Be safe and take care.”
Taking these updates into consideration, let’s look at some of the common questions we’ve received lately regarding workers’ compensation claims in Georgia.
Will my weekly temporary total/temporary partial workers’ compensation checks continue to come?
Yes, the coronavirus should have absolutely no effect on your receipt of weekly workers’ compensation checks. If you did not receive a check, contact your attorney immediately if you have one. If you don’t, contact us immediately. In fact, this is a good opportunity to contact your attorney and work with them on getting direct deposit set up. While there has been no information regarding an interruption in the mail service, I believe it is better to be proactive in this matter.
Many insurance companies have an “automatic stop” on sending workers’ compensation checks that must be lifted every 4 to 6 weeks. Their stated purpose in doing this is to ensure that adjusters are looking at each file. The adjuster has to proactively enter information to ensure that indemnity checks continue to be paid. If there is a limited work schedule mandated by insurance companies, your checks may be in danger due to this.
Let’s be clear:
Stopping your checks because of an internal policy is NOT ALLOWED by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. There are certain safeguards in place to prevent this from happening, and insurance companies can be punished if they do not send checks on time.
Contact us at Gerber & Holder if you are not receiving your workers’ compensation check on time.
Do I have to go to my doctor’s appointment that has been scheduled? Or can I go to my doctor’s appointment that has been scheduled?
These are excellent questions that need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Each doctor’s office is handling this differently.
For example, Peachtree Orthopedics sent an email out on Monday, March 16, 2020, stating that they now have telehealth virtual appointments. This means that for regular follow up visits, they will be doing them via video conference. Additionally, they requested that any patient who has a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or has been exposed to the virus or been to an area affected by the virus to reschedule their surgery or appointment. Finally, they asked that no one attend the appointment unless the injured individual required assistance.
Before attending any doctor’s appointment, contact the doctor’s office to make sure they are still open.
If you are nervous about attending the appointment, contact your attorney so they can notify the provider and the insurance company to avoid any negative ramifications on your case.
How do I continue to get medication that I need?
You can still get the medication you need from your pharmacy so long as you have a valid prescription from an authorized treating physician. This should not change. The federal government has indicated that pharmacies will remain open, and Target and Walmart both announced they will continue to serve customers. Some of these stores have reduced hours, but you should still be able to get mediations during their open times.
Will my case go forward at the upcoming hearing?
This depends upon when your hearing has been scheduled for. The State Board has postponed all hearings set until March 27, 2020. Nothing has been mentioned for hearings set to take place after that date as of yet. In fact, the State Board is proactively resetting hearings that were supposed to take place during that time for a later date.
Despite hearings being postponed, it is still imperative that you cooperate and help your attorney in the discovery process. This means responding to interrogatories when they are sent to you, and assisting your attorney in answering admissions when they are served.
Furthermore, this may be the new normal which means that depositions may be taken remotely.
Has the mediation in my case been cancelled?
You’ll need to contact your attorney with regards to mediation. Mediations can still be held telephonically or via video conferencing. Each mediation practice is handling it differently, so it is important to reach out to your attorney and ask them what the procedure will be.
Have more questions? Contact our Georgia work injury attorneys for answers.
Practices and procedures are constantly changing with the evolving restrictions that are being placed on healthcare providers, law firms and individuals by the CDC, state and federal governments. If you are currently our client, don’t hesitate to call or email us at Gerber & Holder for an update on your case.
If you have any questions about a work injury claim in Georgia and are not yet represented by an attorney, we also encourage you to contact us for advice on what to do next.
To everyone, stay safe and healthy.