New workers’ compensation law means changes for employers

Q&A with Mike Lauderdale

published in The Oklahoman | May 8, 2013

Shortly after Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill into law which would, among other things, overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation system by replacing the current court-based system with an administrative one, McAfee & Taft employment lawyer Michael Lauderdale was interviewed by The Oklahoman about the sweeping changes.

In the business Q&A, he explained that in their attempt to make the state’s workers’ compensation system more efficient and less expensive, the Oklahoma Legislature created a unique piece of legislation that offers employers several options. While the law still requires employers to provide workers’ compensation coverage and benefits, they now have the flexibility to choose the option that best fits their needs.

Included in Senate Bill 1062 are the Oklahoma Employee Injury Benefit Act and the Workers’ Compensation Arbitration Act. “Qualified employers can opt out of the administrative system, provided they offer an employee benefit plan that offers the same or greater benefits for occupational injuries as those specified in the administrative Act,” said Lauderdale. “Such plans can be fully insured or self-funded. In addition, private sector health and welfare plans that offer both occupational and non-occupational injury benefits are potentially governed by ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act), so those federal laws will come into play for many employers who choose this option.”

The other option, he said, was to establish an arbitration program for handling claims for occupational injuries that complies with the new Workers’ Compensation Arbitration Act.

The new law applies to on-the-job injury claims that arise on or after February 1, 2014. All claims filed on or before January 31, 2014, will be subject to resolution through the newly renamed Workers’ Compensation Court of Existing Claims.