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Oklahoma Workers Compensation Opt-Out Statute Ruled Unconstitutional

Oklahoma Flag
September 15, 2016

In a 7–2 ruling on September 13, 2016, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the state workers compensation opt-out statue is unconstitutional. The court ruling was based upon the fact that one group of injured workers was being treated differently from all other injured workers in the state.

In a concurring opinion, two justices noted that while most Oklahoma workers have 30 days to report an injury and can request a hearing before a judge, employees of Dillard's had to report injuries by the end of the workday and could only appeal in writing to a committee made up of people picked by the company. The court sent the case back to the state's Workers Compensation Commission to determine whether the injury was work-related and what benefits, if any, the plaintiff should receive.

Oklahoma passed legislation in 2013 that gave Oklahoma employers the ability to "opt out" of the state workers compensation system and write their own plans, setting the terms for what injuries were covered, which doctors workers could see, how workers were compensated, and how disputes were handled.

The ruling is a setback of those involved in a national campaign to rewrite state laws and allow businesses to decide how to care for their injured. National Public Radio has reported a coalition led by Walmart; Lowe's; and several of the largest retail, trucking, and health care companies seeking to pass similar laws across the country. Bills and draft proposals have been floated in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  

Oklahoma's Supreme Court ruling means Texas is the only state that currently lets employers opt out of workers compensation insurance.

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