A bill that would reduce the amount of workers’ compensation benefits available to injured workers in Oklahoma is now one step closer to becoming signed into law. Senate Bill 1062, a measure that would effectively replace Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation court with an administrative system, passed the Senate in an overwhelming 34-12 vote on February 27, and is now headed to the House for consideration. While supporters of SB 1062 say the bill will bring workers’ comp costs under control and put them in line with other neighboring states, opponents claim the measure will simply reduce employer liability and make cuts to a program designed to protect injured workers. If you have suffered injuries in a workplace accident in Oklahoma, it’s important that you understand these proposed changes and how they may affect your eligibility for income benefits. Contact our experienced attorneys at Oklahoma Legal Center today for legal help.
Measure Would Dispose of Workers’ Compensation Court
If the workers’ comp bill is signed into law, claims would be heard and decided by a panel of administrative law judges instead of by the workers’ compensation court. The measure would also make Oklahoma the second state to permit qualified employers to opt out of the workers’ compensation system entirely, and would establish a means for disputes between workers and employers to be mediated outside the courtroom. According to proponents of the workers’ compensation overhaul, these changes, along with adjustments to compensation amounts, would lower costs for employers, help injured workers get back to work more quickly, and make the state more competitive in attracting businesses.
How the Bill Would Affect Injured Workers
Those challenging the measure, however, maintain that the proposed changes would not only benefit employers, but would also reduce workers’ rights. In fact, nearly 99% of the cost savings anticipated under the proposed changes would come from shortening deadlines for injured employees to file workers’ comp claims or from reductions in benefit amounts and duration of eligibility. Benefit changes proposed by the bill would include reducing to 70% the amount of weekly pay injured workers can collect while unable to work; a 23% reduction in the amount an injured worker can collect if he loses an arm; substantial reductions in benefits paid to the spouse of an employee killed on the job; and a stipulation that would require workers to report their injury within three days or lose out on benefits altogether. The measure would also revoke benefit eligibility for certain injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome and other injuries resulting from repetitive work.
“We’re Putting the Savings on the Back of the Injured Employees”
In questioning the propriety of these significant changes, Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, notes that the bill doesn’t address medical costs, which make up 46% of workers’ comp costs. “You’re saying if you’re an amputee you’re going to get less money, if you’re off work through no fault of your own you’re going going to get less money; but if you’re a doctor who sends these folks to court and says they’ve got an injury, you get to keep the same money,” Burrage argued. According to Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, one of two Republicans to vote against the workers’ comp bill, an administrative system is “the right direction to go. But what gravely concerns me if how we’re finding the savings […] we are not addressing the reimbursement rates, which are a huge driver of workers’ compensation costs, and we’re putting the savings on the back of the injured employees.” If you have been injured on the job in Oklahoma, contact our reputable lawyers at Oklahoma Legal Center today.