Business group counters AFL-CIO critique of likely workers’ compensation reforms
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Published: 26-Apr-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It is not a surprise that the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce disagrees with the Oklahoma AFL-CIO about the merits of House Bill 1062, the workers’ compensation reform bill that went from the House back to Senate this week. 

The state AFL-CIO has decried virtually every aspect of the shift toward an administrative system, particularly the “Oklahoma Option” advocates praised but the union described as an “opt-out” provision.

Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton rebutted the labor union contentions, saying companies who create an alternative workers comp structure must provide the same benefits as companies in the broader system.

The measure is widely anticipated to clear the state Senate within a few days, then head to Gov. Mary Fallin for her anticipated signature. 

Early in this year’s debate, the labor union summarized its opposition to the administrative reforms and other provisions with these “bullet points”--

* Bill does away with felony penalty for employers guilty of fraud

* No duty to rehire or retrain an employee whose position is no longer available

* No award for disability of disfigurement if injured employee returns to work

* Opt-out 

* Takes away the injured employee’s right to judge and jury trial

* Disability weekly payments to injured workers in recovery cut by 30 percent

Michael Seney, the State Chamber’s vice president and a veteran lobbyist, assailed virtually every particular in the Labor Union’s critique; if he did agree with the union summary in a couple of cases, he had a much different conclusion on the merits. 

In response to questions from CapitolBeatOK, Seney reponsed with this analysis of likely new law:

Bill does away with felony penalty for employers guilty of fraudWrongSee Section 6

“ ‘A. 1. a. Any person or entity who makes any material false statement or representation, who willfully and knowingly omits or conceals any material information, or who employs any device, scheme, or artifice, or who aids and abets any person for the purpose of:

(1)  obtaining any benefit or payment,

(2)  increasing any claim for benefit or payment, or

(3)  obtaining workers' compensation coverage under this act, shall be guilty of a felony.’ “

No duty to rehire or retrain an employee whose position is no longer availableThat’s current law

Title 85. Workers' Compensation 
Chapter 15 - Compensation and Benefits
Section 341 - Retaliatory Discharge of Employee or Termination of Health Insurance - No Duty to Rehire or Retain in Certain Circumstances - Damages

“A. No employer may discharge or, except for nonpayment of premium, terminate any group health insurance of any employee because the employee has in good faith:

1. Filed a claim;

2. Retained a lawyer for representation regarding a claim;

3. Instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under the provisions of this act;

4. Testified or is about to testify in any proceeding under the provisions of this act; or

5. Elected to participate or not to participate in a certified workplace medical plan as provided in this act.

B. No employer may discharge any employee during a period of temporary total disability solely on the basis of absence from work.

C. After an employee’s period of temporary total disability has ended no employer shall be required to rehire or retain any employee who is determined to be physically unable to perform assigned duties. The failure of an employer to rehire or retain any such employee shall not be deemed a violation of this section.” 

No award for disability of disfigurement if injured employee returns to work WrongSee Section 45

“F.  Disfigurement.

1. If an injured employee incurs serious and permanent disfigurement to any part of the body, the Commission may award compensation to the injured employee in an amount not to exceed Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00). 

2.  No award for disfigurement shall be entered until twelve (12) months after the injury.

Takes away the injured employee’s right to judge and jury trial Article 23, Section 7 of the Oklahoma Constitution gives the Oklahoma Legislature authority over workers’ compensation cases and the ability to provide “exclusive remedy”.  Current Law – 85.303J states that the judges shall hear the case without a jury.

Disability weekly payments to injured workers in recovery cut by 30 percentWrongTTD maximum was cut from 100% of the State’s Average Weekly Wage to 70%.  Not all employees make the same amount of money.  This was done to bring our benefits back in line.  Currently Oklahoma employers pay $622 per employee in workers’ compensation benefits.  Arkansas is at $180 and Texas is at $190. …Kansas is only $323 per employee.

Seney’s boss at the State Chamber of Commerce is President Fred Morgan. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Morgan said, “This is the most important piece of reform legislation to our state’s workers’ compensation system in more than two decades. In fact, it is one of the most important pro-business bills passed in the history of our state.”

Morgan, a former member of the Legislature, said he hopes the Senate quickly accepts changes to the original bill, so the measure can advance to the governor for her signature. 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma city bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network, at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

 


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