Q&A with Mike Lauderdale
New workers' compensation law
means changes for employers
Q: Senate Bill 1062, which was signed into law this week by Gov. Mary Fallin, makes sweeping changes to the state's workers' compensation system and the way claims for on-the-job injuries are handled. But doesn't it do more than just replace a court-based system with an administrative one?
A: Absolutely. The law still requires employers to provide workers' compensation coverage and benefits, but now they have two options outside the system.
Q: What are the other options for employers?
A: Qualified employers can opt out of the administrative system, provided they offer an employee benefit plan that offers the same or greater benefits for occupational injuries as those specified in the administrative act. Such plans can be fully insured or self-funded. In addition, private sector health and welfare plans that offer both occupational and nonoccupational injury benefits are potentially governed by ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act), so those federal laws will come into play for many employers who choose this option.
The other option available to qualified employers is arbitration. Employers who select this option must notify their employees and their workers' compensation insurance provider of the existence of an arbitration agreement and file an alternative dispute resolution with the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission. Both options include specific instructions for reviewing and appealing decisions.
Q: How do employers choose which option is right for them?
A: There are no clear-cut answers. Employers will want to analyze their own claims history, review their health and welfare plan options for coverage and affordability, and determine their level of comfort with how each system handles reviews and appeals. Employers should consider seeking counsel to make an informed business decision.
Q: When does the new law go into effect?
A: The new law applies to on-the-job injury claims that arise on or after Feb. 1. All claims filed beforehand will be subject to resolution through the newly renamed Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER