Are you an employer or employee in Georgia?
If so, you’ll be interested in a recent change in the law that affects Georgia employee benefit plans. This ruling extends the Mental Health Parity Act, also know as MHPA, through the end of 2007. Originally, the MHPA bill, which was signed into law in 1996, was supposed to end on September 30, 2001. Instead of expiring, this bill has been extended 5 times over the years.
MHPA says that under group health insurance coverage, mental health coverage cannot have a lower payment limit than that one used for medical treatments and surgery. The reason this law is important is that in the past, an insurance company might set a limit for mental health treatments of $15,000 while setting the surgery benefit limit at $250,000.
The Mental Health Parity Act requires group health insurance plans that cover mental health treatments not place a lower payment limit for this coverage than for other coverages, such as surgery. For instance, in the past group health insurance plans could set lifetime surgery benefit maximum of $250,000 but place the mental health treatment benefit lifetime maximum at $15,000. MHPA makes this kind of disparity illegal. Now, if $250,000 is the lifetime benefit maximum for surgery and other treatments, then this same amount has to be the lifetime benefit maximum for mental health treatments.
MHPA also applies to annual benefit limits. The annual benefit maximum established by the group health insurance plan for surgery and other medical treatments must be the same amount allocated for mental health treatments. These treatments can include visits to counselors such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists. Other mental health treatments included are mental hospital stays for conditions such as schizophrenia and depression. In addition, covered treatments also may include stays in rehab centers to treat drug and alcohol dependency.
The mental health treatments covered by the heath insurance plan can include stays in a drug or alcohol rehab and stays in mental hospitals for illness such as schizophrenia or depression. Visits to psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists are also included.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is sure to become a hot topic of conversation in Georgia in the next few years. Recent projections indicate Georgia is in the beginning stage of a baby boom that will last until at least 2010, with 120,000 expected births in the Atlanta area alone. Many working mothers and fathers are likely to take advantage of the time off from the job the federal leave act allows.
The Georgia FMLA provides job security for eligible employees who need to take leave from work to tend to medical situations within their families. The birth or adoption of a baby is an event covered under this act. Also covered is time off to adjust to new family dynamics when a foster child is placed in the home.
In order to seek job protection under the Georgia FMLA, workers must be employed by a company covered under the act. Private businesses with 50 or more employees for 20 or more calendar workweeks are covered. These covered employees must be assigned to work within 75 miles of the jobsite.
All employees of public agencies are covered regardless of staff size. Elementary and secondary school teachers in both private and public schools are covered, too, regardless of the number of employees.
To be qualified as eligible for leave, a worker must be employed for 12 months prior to beginning the leave. During this 12-month period, the worker must work a minimum of 1,250 hours, or just over 24 hours per week. For those workers with intermittent, occasional, or other “casual” work arrangements, the work does not need to be done in consecutive weeks but the 1,250 hours must have been worked in any combination of the 52 weeks prior to taking leave.
All employees considering using the FMLA should make arrangements with their employer before leave commences if humanly possible. They should make every effort to meet their employers’ requirements for continued contact throughout leave time.
In the state of Georgia, there are two important messages that the state wants passed along to the employers in the state. One thing is that the state needs the best information that you have in order to provide the best possible unemployment insurance system possible in Georgia. How do I know that accurate information is important to the unemployment insurance system in the state? I’ve been in touch with state sources.
The other important message is that all Georgia employers, according to state labor laws, are required to have an unemployment insurance poster in their work sites, each and every one of them. How do I know this message is important? Well, labor law posters are an important part of the law for any employer. Don’t have the right posters in your work places, and you’re looking at getting on the wrong side of a penalty or a fine. So I guess you could say that I am just looking out for you on this one.
Getting back to the first message, though. Providing accurate and up to date info on your employees is part of the Georgia Employment Security Law and the Rules of the Georgia Department of Labor. You have to complete an Employer Status Report according to these rules, and that is to make sure that you are providing the proper unemployment insurance taxes.
The other info that they are talking about with this law is info on your employees. For instance, when your employees are laid off, fired, quit, or left on leave, it is up to you the employer to keep accurate track of why and when they left. This can simply be done by using exit interview forms, Employee Discipline Forms, absence reports, and anything else that could be used as proof that your employee left, and that they might have left for bad reasons, other than getting laid off.
The Georgia Employment Security Law is designed to protect workers who become totally or partially unemployed through no fault of their own and are either looking for another job, have a definite recall within 6 weeks of the last day worked, or are in approved training. The funding for unemployment insurance benefits comes from taxes paid by employers. Workers do not pay any of the costs.
I read that a worker must have worked for the last year for the employer. The worker may receive benefits for 26 weeks after losing their job.
If an employee’s loss was not the result of a lack of work (i.e. layoff, business closure), a decision on the reason for separation is required. If the employee can show that they quit for good work-related reasons, they may be able to collect. Examples of good work-connected reasons are material change in working conditions, material change in working agreement, nonpayment for work, and similar reasons. An employee will not be able to draw benefits if their reason for quitting was personal even though the personal reason was a good or compelling one.
Employees must also follow other rules to be eligible for benefits. They must:
Be able to do some kind of work that is available in their area and that they are qualified to do
Be available for work without placing undue restrictions on availability, such as lack of child care, lack of transportation, or other restrictions.
Be actively seeking work each week and be looking for full-time employment.
Not refuse any offer of suitable work or referral to suitable work without good cause.
Register for work with the department’s Employment Service Division, and must respond to any notices to come in for services.
I know that employees may file a claim for benefits at any office of the Georgia Department of Labor. They can also appeal any decision of the Department within 15 days of a refusal of benefits. The benefits are taxable.
In order to comply with Georgia law, employers must post a notice of the Georgia Unemployment Insurance rights in their place of business. The Georgia Complete Labor Law poster is currently available with all the most recent labor laws.
The Georgia Vacation Notice protects an employer from false claims of unemployment, and also lets them take absenteeism and excessive time off into account when determining unemployment benefits.
I read that under Georgia law, unemployment insurance is not payable when an employee is on:
- leave of absence at their own request
- paid vacation
- unpaid vacation, up to two weeks in a calendar year if provided by employment contract, or
- by established employer custom, practice or policy
Unemployment insurance provides limited replacement wages to workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
Before the vacation notice was put into effect, I know that an employee could be ineligible for unemployment benefits if they were let go for excessive absences in violation of the employer’s attendance policy. The employer merely had to have advised the employee that excessive absenteeism was grounds for termination. If the employee unjustifiably failed to notify the employer, the employee would be ineligible for benefits (even if the absences were due to illness).
The law was changed in December 2005 so that now, when the absence leading to a discharge is illness-related, an employer seeking to disqualify the offending employee from receiving unemployment benefits may be required to show that it warned the employee, in writing and in advance of any absences, that unemployment benefits may be denied because of a violation of the employer’s attendance policy.
This warning (in writing and in advance) is accomplished by posting the Vacation Notice poster in an employer’s place of business. The Georgia Complete Labor Law poster is available to reflect the vacation notification. For more information, contact the Georgia Department of Labor.