Oklahoma Supreme Court Ruling a Victory for Workers
By Sandra Dalton, Staff Writer
The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled that the provision in Oklahoma’s Workers’ Compensation Act that allows employers to opt out of the state’s plan and provide their own, is unconstitutional because it does not protect all employees equally when they are injured. It is a victory for workers and their families in Oklahoma, which has had some of the worst Workers’ Compensation laws in the country since changes were made to the law in 2013.
Understanding Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ Compensation is a type of insurance that employers are required to carry to cover employees who suffer work-related injuries and illnesses. Workers’ Compensation laws were adopted in the U.S during the first half of the 20th century. Each state has its own Workers’ Compensation laws. The purpose is to provide immediate medical care and partial replacement of lost income to injured workers, while simultaneously shielding employers from lawsuits.
Each state is different. Typically, for employees who are eligible, Workers’ Compensation benefits can include medical care, replacement of up to two-thirds of lost wages, and even long-term disability when applicable. Families can receive Workers’ Compensation death benefits if an employee dies of their injuries.
What Went Wrong in Oklahoma in 2013
In 2013, under the guise of “reform”, Oklahoma’s Workers’ Compensation laws were changed. One change was to allow employers to opt-out of the traditional Workers’ Compensation system and design their own coverage.
Companies were allowed to decide what types of injuries would be covered. At least one plan did not cover prosthetic limbs for people who lost an arm or leg on the job. The 2013 legislation also allowed employers to make rules that make it very difficult for workers to receive benefits when they are injured, such as requiring employees to notify employers of their injuries by the end of shift and forcing employees to accept any settlement offered by the employer or forfeit their right to benefits.
All the while, employers are still shielded from lawsuits brought by injured employees.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the opt-out portion of the 2013 changes is unconstitutional because it creates two different classes of workers. The ruling means that Oklahoma employers are no longer allowed to opt out of the state Workers’ Compensation system, and all Oklahoma employees should now have the same protections.
If you or someone you love has been injured on-the-job, you can learn more about your rights and how you can recover damages for your losses by searching our directory to find a lawyer near you.