Oklahoma has now joined Texas in offering employers a way to control workers’ compensation insurance and claims through arbitration and privatization. What does this mean for employees?
Employers have the option now of opting out of the workers’ compensation system, a backbone of employee rights for more than 100 years. Unlike Texas, however, in order for an Oklahoma employer to opt out and create its own benefits system, employers must demonstrate financial strength and loss experience parameters. Only those who can afford the cost of self-insurance can opt for this alternative.
The legislation revolves around three parts: the Administrative Compensation Act, the Oklahoma Benefit Act — which includes the opt-out provision — and the Arbitration Act.
Starting on February 1, an administrative process with three appointed commissioners will replace the current court procedure with 10 judges for litigating workers’ compensation claims.
Temporary disability payments will be reduced to 104 weeks instead of 156 weeks, with a cap at 70 percent of the state’s average weekly wage, about $540 per week.
Permanent disability payments will be reduced from 520 weeks to 350 weeks.
Employees will be allowed to change treating physicians once so long as the selection is from a list of three doctors provided by the employer.
Employers can require arbitration as the exclusive way to settle claims and disputes with employees.
These are profound changes to an essential safety net for Oklahoma workers. Oklahoma residents deserve access to justice, using the laws and courts to secure their rights and privileges of citizenship.
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