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.
Reports of friction between workers’ compensation employees have surfaced during the transition.
Sources told The Oklahoman that employees of the Workers’ Compensation Commission took all the copy paper at one point, leaving the Court of Existing Claims unable to process court orders until an attorney donated three reams of paper and a roll of stamps.
Farmer said all employees have been told to cooperate.
“This year's legislative budget gave the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Court of Existing Claims separate budget lines,” Farmer said. “The WCC and the CEC are in the process of dividing the space and the personnel. In that process, copiers, paper, other equipment and supplies were moved. The CEC always had access to copy paper, postage, copiers and anything else they needed. The standing order was that we are all one team and we work together. As of today, the standing order is that we continue to cooperate and support each other.”
Changes in the state’s workers’ compensation system were mandated by Senate Bill 1062, signed into law in 2013. Backers of the changes say the new administrative system is designed to be less contentious and will reduce legal red tape. In the long run, they say money can be saved by resolving more cases through mediation rather than prolonged trials, using electronic recordings at hearings rather than court reporters and electronically filing documents.
“When our workers are injured, we want them to be fairly compensated and cared for so they can get healthy and back to work as quickly as possible,” Fallin said. “The new administrative system will be less contentious, less costly and better for both workers and employers.”
About the system changes
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