A new workers compensation law is set to take effect in February 2014. The bill creates an opportunity for businesses to opt-out of Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation law program. They can either self-insuring to provide benefits for injured workers or purchasing policies from approved insurance providers. This does not eliminate the workers’ compensation system. It does though enable corporations to provide their own benefits with restrictions on doctors and benefits. However, a recent workers compensation law challenges should lead to a delay of its implementation, or even a complete overhaul of the new legislation. To date workers compensation law challenges are mounting.
Revamping Workers Compensation:
Oklahoma is one of many states seeking to revamp its workers’ compensation laws. This is because of claims on the part of employers and other politicians that the current system is cost-prohibitive and is the subject of abuse by employees who “doctor shop” in order to claim disability for long periods of time when the injuries suffered on the job may not necessitate such drastic measures. However, much of the push for the new legislation is to save large employers money. It also is to restrict the rights of those Oklahoma workers who receive on the job injuries.
Two Oklahoma state legislators, Republican Senator Harry Coates and Democratic House Representative Emily Virgin, along with the Professional Fire Fighters of Oklahoma, have filed a legal challenge to the new legislation. They cite more than a dozen justifications for the Supreme Court to find the law unconstitutional. The key reason is that the law violates the state constitutional requirement that a bill address only one subject. This legal challenge has successfully been able to overturn other legislation. This includes a recent ruling that the 2009 tort reform law was in violation of the single-subject rule. It therefore was unconstitutional.
Reasons For Workers Compensation Law Challenges:
- Ambiguity in the law leads to employee’s being unaware of their rights if their employer chooses to opt out of Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system, violating due process rights;
- The new law may lead to a reduction in benefits, depending on the claim being filed, violating due process rights;
- The new legislation is comprised of three separate provisions, violating the single-subject rule, specifically:
- The creation of a new administrative system rather than a judicial resolution to challenges about benefits and continuing employment;
- The provision that a claimant must rely on arbitration to resolve disputes if there is a valid arbitration agreement;
- The creation of a system where an employer may opt out of the state workers’ compensation program.
One of the arguments against the new system is that an employee who is not happy with the benefits must appeal to a company panel. Those opposed to the bill claim that such a panel is incapable of providing a neutral decision.
Those who continue to support the new law, including Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, claim that the bill will result in cost savings for companies that will invest back in the state through the creation of new jobs and business growth.
For those injured Oklahoma workers who suffered a work related single event injury or a cumulative trauma accident that occurred prior to the enactment of the new law if passed will still be able to bring their workers compensation claim under the old system.
Tulsa's Local Workers' Compensation Lawyers
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