Oklahomans who suffer an injury and are subsequently unable to work may find themselves in a situation where they need to seek workers’ compensation benefits. However, they may not know that some employers, per a 2013 state law, were permitted to decide not to take part in the state’s workers’ compensation system and instead set up their own alternative benefits systems. However, in a recent unanimous ruling by the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission, this opt-out law was deemed to be unconstitutional.
The case involved a worker who was injured on the job in 2014. Her employer denied her compensation, claiming that the worker had a pre-existing condition. Although she appealed her employer’s decision, her appeal was denied by her employer. Her attorney successfully argued that the worker would have received compensation for her injury per Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system. Moreover, her attorney successfully argued that her denial of benefits was in fact disparate treatment when compared to other workers who suffered injuries. It is expected that the Commission’s decision will be appealed. If so, the case will go before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
According to one analysis, such opt-out plans made it simpler for employers to determine not to grant a worker benefits, gave employers a greater deal of say in how the worker would be diagnosed and treated, gave employers more power over the appeals process and led more workers to be forced to settle for a lump-sum payment.
It remains to be seen whether this case will be appealed and what the result of such an appeal will be. However, it goes without saying that this ruling significantly affects many workers in Oklahoma. Those who have more questions about what this ruling means for Oklahoma’s opt-out system and how it affects their right to receive workers’ compensation benefits may find that seeking legal advice is very helpful.
Source: NPR, “Oklahoma Commission Declares Workers’ Comp Alternative Unconstitutional,” Howard Berkes and Michael Grabell, Feb. 29, 2016
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