Oklahoma workers' compensation system eliminates 16 jobs

The jobs of 16 state workers’ compensation system employees were eliminated Wednesday as Oklahoma continues the transition from a court-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative system.
by Randy Ellis Published: July 10, 2014
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The jobs of 16 state workers’ compensation system employees were eliminated Wednesday as Oklahoma continues the transition from a court-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative system.

Wednesday’s job cuts dropped the number of state workers’ compensation system employees from 75 employees to 59, said Rick Farmer, executive director of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission.

All of the affected employees were offered voluntary buyouts and some are still considering the offer, Farmer said.

Gov. Mary Fallin said system changes were needed to to improve efficiency and make the state more business-friendly.

“For decades, Oklahoma has had one of the most expensive and inefficient workers’ compensation systems in the country,” Fallin said in a news release. “Our new system is more efficient, less costly and will ultimately help to create jobs by reducing costs that have been hurting small businesses in Oklahoma for years.”

Fallin described the old court-based system as “a constant obstacle for businesses looking to expand operations or create more jobs.” She said the State Chamber of Oklahoma has estimated recent workers’ compensation changes will save Oklahoma businesses $263 million a year.

Converting from a court-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative system involves a complex transition.

A Court of Existing Claims was formed to allow judges to continue to handle cases involving injuries that occurred prior to Feb. 1 Meanwhile, a Workers’ Compensation Commission was created to administratively handle new claims involving on-the-job injuries that occur on or after that date.

During Wednesday’s reorganization, 31 employees, including six judges, were assigned to the Court of Existing Claims, while 28 employees were assigned to the administrative Workers’ Compensation Commission, Farmer said. The old Workers’ Compensation Court had 10 judges.

The number of employees dedicated to the Court of Existing Claims is expected to gradually be reduced as its caseload dwindles, with the court scheduled for elimination in 2020.

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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About the system changes

More on SB 1062 and workers’ compensation reform:

The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission started operations Feb. 1, according to SB 1062. The commission has three members, each appointed by the governor with confirmation required by the Oklahoma Senate.

The legislation also changed the name of the state’s workers’ compensation court to the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court of Existing Claims. It only deals with cases filed before Feb. 1.

Reducing the number of judges along with more efficient administrative practices put in place by the commission means fewer employees are needed, resulting in additional taxpayer savings. Cost-saving practices include resolving more cases through mediation rather than prolonged trials, using electronic recordings at hearings rather than court reporters and electronically filing documents.

The number of employees needed to run the workers’ compensation system dropped from about 75 to fewer than 60. Personnel changes took effect Wednesday.

Lawmakers during this year’s session established separate budgets for the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Court of Existing Claims for the 2015 fiscal year, which began July 1. That action put into motion making both stand-alone agencies.

The Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Court of Existing Claims are housed on separate floors at its headquarters in the Denver Davison Building, immediately southwest of the state Capitol. Each will continue to have an office and staff in Tulsa.

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