In the past few weeks, there has been considerable speculation and examination into certain worker's compensation opt-out plans and their constitutionality. The findings of the Oklahoma Worker's Compensation Commission at the end of February were that these programs violated basic worker's rights laws and therefore had to be thrown out. Whether this ruling will set a precedent for other states with similar laws (one example being Texas) is yet to be seen, but let's take a look at what this initial ruling means to these other states, as well as what it means for employers and employees.
One of the major critiques of the traditional worker's compensation system with statewide standards was that it cut out employers from the conversation as to how best to treat claims in order to rehabilitate employees in the most thorough and efficient manner. With these laws no longer in place, the worker's compensation claims process will inevitably be less under the control of the employer, and the power to determine an effective rectification will fall under the control of the state. However, this will mean that the process will get considerably more expensive due to the need for employees to go to state-recommended healthcare facilities rather than one that is mutually agreed upon by the employee and employer.
Many employees will likely appreciate this ruling since it guarantees that employees that deserve their full worker's compensation will receive it rather than testing one's luck with an employer with a confusing opt-out policy. The process of filling out a claim will likely be flatter and more straightforward as well since there will be less involvement in the process from employers with individualized worker's compensation options. Instead, the state will be the only entity with the power to dole out worker's compensation, as opposed to dozens of employers with their own case-by-case compensation plans to muddy the waters.
In the future, states with similar worker's compensation opt-out plans will likely come under closer scrutiny from worker's rights organizations. While the decision in Oklahoma is likely to be appealed, this first step will likely be appealed in Oklahoma Supreme Court soon. Regardless of that decision, this most recent ruling has made it clear that there is some work to be done on the opt-out laws that some states have in place for worker's compensation. If you live in a state that has these laws, it will be important to keep an eye on these developments. Also, be sure to speak with an attorney (like those at Neifert Byrne & Ozga) immediately upon requiring the filing of a worker's compensation claim to make sure that your case will be conducted under the most up-to-date set of regulations.