Oklahoma City, OK – The Oklahoma Senate has adopted HB 2155 – the Oklahoma Employee Injury Benefit Act – a proposal aimed at providing Oklahoma employers an option to the increasing costs and complexities of the state’s workers compensation system which is consistently rated in national reports as one of the most expensive and inefficient in the country. State Senator Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, and Speaker of the House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, are sponsors of the legislation. The measure is touted as a bold and proven approach to the chronic problems associated with the current system. The bill will provide the state a game-changing tool in its quest to create and retain jobs while protecting injured workers.
The proposed Oklahoma Employee Injury Act would:
- protect the rights of employees who suffer on-the-job injuries;
- allow qualifying small and large employers to manage their own ERISA-compliant injury benefit
- plan in lieu of participating in the state’s workers’ compensation system;
- require employers to provide benefits that are comparable and would frequently be greater than
- those offered under current Oklahoma workers’ compensation law;
- require that the benefits be paid without regard to the cause of the injury;
- require that all, except the most financially secure employers, purchase insurance to fund injury benefits should an employer go bankrupt;
- provide an established system of “administrative review” – as opposed to trials – as a way to resolve benefit disputes;
- provide statutorily-required remedies that would involve the state and federal courts; and
- provide employers cost savings that can be re-invested in operations, employees and communities.
The alternative provided by the Act would be voluntary and not mandated for anyone allowing qualifying employers to adopt it if they believe it would be appropriate for their operations and employees.
While the proposal is similar to the Texas “nonsubscriber” alternative the Oklahoma option includes employer requirements that are much stricter and provide more employee protections. The Act would require employers to meet an array of requirements designed to protect the interests of employees or face the consequences of their actions from state government as well as federal agencies such as the U.S. Dept. of Labor, IRS and FBI.
The legislation has received strong support from some of the state’s leading employers including Quik Trip, Hobby Lobby, Sysco, Express Employment Professionals, Reasor’s, Sonic, Melton Truck Lines, CompChoice, Advance-Pierre Foods, ResCare, ACME Fan, Brookdale Senior Living, Dollar General, Regis, AutoZone, Unit Drilling and Best Buy.
In addition to support from the OIBC, the State Chamber of Oklahoma has made passage of the option one of its top legislative priorities for the 2012 session.
Not surprisingly, lawyers and insurance companies whose financial interests are linked to the current system have aggressively fought the proposal in an attempt to defeat the new approach and preserve the status quo.
Becky Robinson, assistant vice president and risk manager for Hobby Lobby and chair of the Oklahoma Injury Benefit Coalition (OIBC), stated, “Despite numerous attempts to improve the current system, no one today can seriously dispute that Oklahoma employees and employers – the true beneficiaries of the system – are dissatisfied with it.”
“The Oklahoma option is not a substitute for the state’s workers’ compensation system. Nor is it an option to allow employers to abdicate their responsibilities to injured workers,” said Chris Davis, president of SYSCO Oklahoma, a member of the OIBC.
“SYSCO’s experience with a similar model in Texas has resulted in consistently favorable satisfaction among injured employees. We would not be interested in pursuing this unless we felt it was the right thing to do for our workers,” added Davis.
In a survey of injured workers employed by Texas businesses managing their own occupational injury programs, 78 percent of the workers indicated they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the handling of their injury claim by their employer’s plan. HB 2155 will now be considered by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.