Legislators Consider Oklahoma Workers Comp Reform

[caption id="attachment_1614" align="alignleft" width="271"]Oklahoma workers comp lawyers Image Credit: orea.org[/caption] As the state legislature meets to discuss and decide on several new bills for the 2013 legislative session, local business owners say their most pressing concern is the reform of workers comp laws.  Representatives of both employers and employees support reform, although their ideas of how to best reduce Oklahoma workers compensation costs may differ.  Jimmy Curry, president of the Oklahoma State AFL-CIO labor union says that encouraging safety and reducing work-related accidents is the best way to minimize the costs of the state's workers compensation program.  Some state representatives are supporting measures such as replacing the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Court (OWCC) with an administrative program, while another proposes allowing some employers to opt out of the state's workers compensation system if they provide an alternative benefits program that meets certain standards. Critics of the existing program say that the provision of Permanent Partial Disability Benefits (PPD) may provide a "disincentive to work."  Mike Seney, the senior vice president for policy analysis and strategic planning for The State Chamber of Oklahoma, compares receiving PPD benefits to getting a paid vacation for employees who do not return to work, and to getting a large "bonus" for employees who do return to work after a workplace accident. However, workers comp rights are not designed to be a windfall for lazy employees; rather, they are a much-needed benefit for employees who are hurt at work, and employers should not be quick to judge against anyone who files a claim. So what is the source of contention over PPD benefits and the costs of Workers Compensation Insurance in Oklahoma?  Critics of the current system point to a study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance that showed Oklahoma to have the highest claim frequency for PPD in an eight state region, and that the state's average payout for PPD benefits was $47,000--almost double the regional average of $25,000. However, an Oklahoma workers comp attorney who participated in a 2011 reform of the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Code said that the complaints raised by employers today were actually addressed in the earlier reform, but that the new laws have not had time to demonstrate any effect, in part because workers compensation benefits are determined by the rules in place at the time of the workers injuries.  This means that some claims processed today are still handled according to older laws.  Once these are phased out, according to the lawyer representing injured workers, the issues of concern will begin to resolve themselves.