• Welcome Changes to Georgia's Return to Work Statute Now in Effect
  • October 4, 2013 | Author: Brian Mallow
  • Law Firm: Hall Booth Smith, P.C. - Albany Office
  • For many years, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-240 has provided a tool for compelling injured employees to return to light duty work, but this mechanism was often ineffective. Although it allowed an employer to unilaterally suspend income benefits if the injured employee refused the light duty job, the employee could simply show up for work and "attempt" the job for a few minutes before determining that he or she was unable to do the job. The employer was then required to immediately reinstate benefits, file a hearing request of its own, and prove that the job offered was suitable to the injured employee's physical condition. The new amendment to O.C.G.A. § 34-9-240, which took effect in July, should significantly reduce these token attempts by employees and make the employer's effort at offering a light duty job more worthwhile.

    Under the new statute, an employee who was properly offered a light duty job must attempt the job for more than "eight cumulative hours or one scheduled work day, whichever is greater." If the employee fails to meet this new requirement, or if the employee simply fails to attempt the job at all, the employer may unilaterally suspend weekly benefits and the burden of proof is on the employee to establish that the job was not suitable to his or her condition. If the employee does meet the eight cumulative hour/one scheduled work day requirement, but is unable to perform the job for 15 working days, weekly benefits must be reinstated as was the case under the previous version of the statute.

    The amendment to O.C.G.A. § 34-9-240 is a welcome change in the process, but there is sure to be litigation over the definition of the new terms "one scheduled workday" and "eight cumulative hours." For instance, under the new rule, claimant's attorneys will argue that an employee can comply with the "eight cumulative hour" requirement by working just one hour per day over an eight day period.

    Even with the recent changes, the 240 process can be still quite complicated in terms of getting the light duty job approved, giving timely and adequate notice, and making appropriate board filings. Failure to comply with the technical requirements of the statute and Board rules can invalidate the light duty job offer and potentially expose the employer/insurer to assessed penalties and fees. Our attorneys are well-versed in these technical requirements and are happy assist with any questions or concerns that you may have.