The Oklahoma Supreme Court has come down hard against the alternative workers’ compensation law, which allows employers to “opt-out” of traditional, state-run benefits, so long as they provide their own coverage. It’s similar to the one South Carolina had been considering.
However, these “alternative” plans have proven time and again to be detrimental to workers. To start, companies have the freedom to define what it means to be “injured.” Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in a narrowed definition, meaning many workers who otherwise would have received benefits are shut out.
Another of these unfair provisions – the one on which the state supreme court recently weighed – was called the “180-Day Rule.” According to this provision, the act prohibits workers from collecting workers’ compensation if they had been employed for less than 180 days.
This is extremely troubling when you consider that research has repeatedly shown us that workers who are new to the job are the most at risk for injury. That’s because they lack the experience and often the proper training to know how to do the job safely.
It’s inherently unfair too for workers because, per the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy provisions, they have no other legal recourse. They are not allowed to sue their employer for injuries sustained. Workers’ compensation is usually the only way they can recover from enormous medical bills and lost wages (unless they file a third-party liability lawsuit, and that’s only under certain circumstances). So effectively, this 180-day rule left these vulnerable workers with absolutely no remedy.
Unconstitutional, declared the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Torres v. Seaboard Foods LLC. Specifically, this 180-day rule violates the due process section of the state’s constitution.
Essentially, it creates a classification that totally blocks certain claimants from recovering for their injuries whatsoever. The court called this “fundamentally unjust.”
The ruling came just one week after the state’s workers’ compensation commission ruled these opt-out plans are illegal because they to not provide equal protections for workers, and, again, are fundamentally unjust.
In the case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, claimant was a former worker who was injured on the job and needed surgery. However, the company argued she could not collect workers’ compensation because she alleged a cumulative-injury trauma and had only worked at the company for 120 days – not long enough under the 180-Day rule.
An administrative law judge sided with the employer and the workers’ compensation commission affirmed. But on appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the entire law to be plainly unfair.
What’s more, justices ruled, the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act threw the balance of the “grand bargain” off-kilter. Now, instead of being beneficial to both workers and employers (workers receiving no-fault coverage for injuries and employers being protected from worker-generated lawsuits), it has become one-sided in favor of the employer.
What’s more, these provisions were not rationally related to the legitimate interests of:
- Preventing workers’ compensation fraud;
- Decreasing employer costs.
South Carolina’s workers’ compensation “opt-out” bill – H.B. 4197, also known as the South Carolina Employee Benefit Plan Alternative – has been put on hold following a host of critical media reports, including those by NPR and ProPublica Inc.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Torres v. Seaboard Foods LLC, March 1, 2016, Oklahoma Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Anderson-Green v. N.C. DHHS – Unreasonable Delay of Workers’ Comp Claim, March 11, 2016, Anderson Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog