For many years, state legislators and executive office holders, strongly aligned with business interests, complained about the need to change Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation laws. Governor Mary Fallin has been one of the biggest proponents of workers’ comp “reform”. In February of 2014, their desires came to fruition.
Here is an overview of some of the recent changes to Oklahoma’s worker’s compensation laws:
- In 2013, Governor Fallin approved significant changes to a nearly 100-year-old law that governed the relationship between businesses and injured workers. The revised law went into effect on February, 1, 2014, but with flaws.
- In February 2016, the Workers’ Compensation Commission determined the opt-out provision in the law was unconstitutional. This particular provision allows companies to write their own workers’ comp plans, which were substandard and did not meet the benefits required by state workers’ compensation law. Employees cannot be treated differently under opt-out plans.
- In May 2016, the Supreme Court ruled several provisions of the 2013 law unconstitutional. The court overturned a section requiring an employee to work somewhere for at least six months before becoming eligible for cumulative trauma The Supreme Court also ruled permanent partial disability benefits cannot be forfeited if the injured person goes back to work and is later terminated, or merely returns to the same job.
The Legislature’s rewrite of the Workers’ Compensation Act in 2013 has been a disaster. Sadly, the general population is entirely unaware of its failures until they are subject to the system. If the groups that pushed for workers’ comp “reform” had spent more effort mandating increased workplace safety, they would not have to be so worried about all the injuries and their costs. What many of these “pro-business groups” who pushed for reform have failed to realize is that the injured workers truly need the benefits of the workers’ compensation system.
This year, legislators are trying to fix several unconstitutional parts of the law. As of this writing, the primary bill is in conference committee, and state Representative Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) expects lawmakers to have a final version of the bill to send to the governor for her signature before the 2016 legislative session ends, which must adjourn by the last Friday of May.
Injured workers deserve to be treated fairly, not harmed further by laws that are supposed to protect them.
As advocates for injured workers, we are carefully watching what the Legislature does with workers’ comp laws. Hopefully we can all get through May and breathe a sigh of relief that lawmakers fixed the unconstitutional parts of the law, without creating more problems.
Call your legislators and ask for workers’ compensation reform that protects workers not big business, and then call us at Johnson & Biscone at 405-232-6490 for a free consultation. We will fight for you.