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New Bill Allows Oklahoma Employers to “Opt Out” of Workers’ Compensation System

With the passage of a new workers’ comp bill, Oklahoma joins Texas as the only states that allow employers to “opt out” of the state workers’ compensation program. The measure passed the Oklahoma state Senate by a vote of 35-12 on April 30, and Governor Mary Fallin said she “looked forward” to signing the bill into law. Others, however, are concerned about the potential drawbacks for injured workers in Oklahoma, including proposed reductions in disability benefits. If you have suffered injuries in a workplace accident in Oklahoma, it is important to understand how this new workers’ comp legislation could affect you and your family. Contact our knowledgeable attorneys at Oklahoma Legal Center today to discuss your legal options.

Changes Proposed in Workers’ Comp Measure

Under S.B. 1062, employers in Oklahoma would be permitted to opt out of the state workers’ compensation system, but would be required to offer injured workers alternative benefit systems governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). According to a report prepared by consultants in Tennessee, when that state was considering a similar provision, any state that implements the ERISA-type workers’ comp system would be federally pre-empted from any enforcement authorities on non-workers’ compensation benefit plans. “In such cases the state would lose practical enforcement control over benefit amount, eligibility or delivery mechanism,” concluded the TN report.

New Bill Called “Ill-Considered”

The American Insurance Association (AIA) also lobbied strongly against the new bill, claiming that “Restructuring CompSource, a state-based insurance system, permitting employers to abandon the workers’ compensation system and changing existing benefits to the workers’ compensation system are all ill-considered and bad public policy measures contained within this bill.” There are some advantages to the new measure, which will prohibit Oklahoma employers from going without any kind of workers’ compensation coverage, unlike Texas, and which will also require employers to provide some level of benefits for injury, sickness or death not related to an occupational injury.

Our Reputable Attorneys Can Help

Despite these potential benefits though, opponents of the legislation are raising concerns about what the measure will mean for injured workers in Oklahoma. While the reforms mandated by the workers’ comp bill would save roughly $125 million in workers’ compensation claims costs annually, AIA’s associate general counsel and director of workers’ compensation, Bruce Wood, says most of the savings would come from cutting disability payments for injured workers. Under the measure, workers would be eligible for temporary total disability benefits for only two years instead of three, and the payments would be limited to 70% of the state’s average weekly wage – approximately $550 per week – no matter how high the worker’s salary. If you have been injured at work in Oklahoma, and you believe you are eligible for workers’ comp benefits, consult our reputable lawyers at Oklahoma Legal Center today.

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