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Georgia Appeals Court Holds that Worker Who Was Unemployed Due to Work-Related PTSD Was Entitled to Unemployment

In a Georgia employment law case, a worker who has been fired or has voluntarily left his or her employment may make a claim for unemployment benefits. However, such a claim may be met with resistance by the workers’ former employer, especially if it was the employee, rather than the employer, who terminated the working relationship between the parties.

This is because, generally speaking, those who voluntarily quit a job are not entitled to receive unemployment benefits. However, it is worth noting that there are some important exceptions to this general rule.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a commercial driver for the defendant sanitation service. After being employed by the defendant for about two years, the plaintiff was involved in a traffic accident while performing his duties. The accident involved a fatality. The plaintiff was not at fault in the accident. Due to physical injuries he suffered in the crash, the plaintiff did not immediately return to work. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and told the defendant that he could no longer drive professionally due to trauma that he suffered in the accident.

Approximately eight months after the accident, the plaintiff filed a claim for unemployment benefits. The defendant responded that it had not considered the plaintiff’s employment to be terminated; rather, according to the defendant, the plaintiff was still employed by it. The plaintiff, however, contended that his employment had ended on the day that he informed the defendant that he was unable to drive. The claims examiner determined that the plaintiff was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because he was still employed by the defendant.

The defendant then issued a formal separation notice, and the administrative hearing officer who heard the plaintiff’s appeal from the denial of his request for benefits held that the plaintiff could not receive unemployment because he had left his employment voluntarily without good cause. The superior court affirmed this decision, and the plaintiff sought further review.

Holding of the Court

The Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed the lower tribunals’ denial of the plaintiff’s claim for unemployment benefits. The court began its analysis by observing that the issue of whether an employee who suffers work-related PTSD could show good cause for his voluntary termination was an issue of first impression in Georgia.

Construing the applicable statute in favor of the plaintiff and acknowledging that Georgia public policy favored payment of unemployment benefits to those who find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own, the court of appeals decided that the plaintiff’s health problems were obvious enough to allow the defendant a chance to address the problem, if it had so chosen.

Have an Employment Law Question?

Experienced Atlanta employment attorney John L. Mays at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert can help  you understand your legal rights if you are considering filing a claim against your employer for wrongful discharge, violation of the Family Medical Leave Act, or unlawful practices under wage and hour laws. Call us at 877-986-5529 to schedule a consultation. Please be mindful that there are strict filing deadlines for these types of claims, so it is important to legal counsel as soon as possible.

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