Oklahoma Commission Declares Workers' Comp Alternative Unconstitutional

Mar 17, 2016

An Oklahoma law that lets employers opt out of state-regulated workers' compensation has been rejected and declared unconstitutional by state regulators.

The Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission called the alternative workplace-benefit plans that some employers adopted under the law "a water mirage on the highway that disappears upon closer inspection."

The unanimous ruling by the commission, issued Friday, is expected to be appealed.

NPR and ProPublica have also learned that the U.S. Department of Labor is looking at whether opt-out plans in Oklahoma and Texas violate federal law.

Since 2013, employers in Oklahoma have had the ability to set up their own workplace injury plans and avoid state-regulated workers' comp benefits. An NPR and ProPublica analysis of Oklahoma's opt-out plans shows that most provide fewer benefits, make it easier for employers to deny benefits, give employers control over medical assessment and treatment, leave appeals in the hands of employers, and force workers to accept lump-sum settlements.

The ruling "stops opt-out in its tracks," says Bob Burke, an Oklahoma City attorney who has filed 17 cases challenging the law.

It stems from the case of Jonnie Yvonne Vasquez, who was injured at work while lifting boxes of shoes at a Dillard's department store in 2014. Dillard's denied benefits, citing a pre-existing condition. The company also rejected Vasquez's appeal.

Burke, who represents Vasquez, argued that the injury would have been covered under the state's workers' comp law and that the rejection by Dillard's constitutes disparate treatment of injured workers.

Read the entire article here.

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