The Oklahoma Senate this week voted on the final version of a bill that will dismantle the current workers compensation court system and replace it with an administrative system. Some of those who voted on the bill appeared to misunderstand both the current workers compensation system and the new system they voted on.
Legislators who favored the bill touted the measure as a way to get injured employees back to work more quickly. Opponents noted the bill cuts injured workers’ long term benefits by 30 percent.
State Chamber President Fred Morgan – who supported the new bill – called it “one of the most important pro-business bills passed in the history of our state.”
Whether the bill is pro-business or not may be a matter of perspective. If skilled workers avoid Oklahoma because they don’t think they’ll be fairly compensated for injuries on high risk jobs, Oklahoma businesses might be at a disadvantage compared to those in states that assure injured workers fair compensation.
Comments that media reports attributed to senators suggest some may have had less than a full understanding of either the current benefit structure or the new benefit structure they were voting on. It wouldn’t be the first time lawmakers have paid more attention to sound-bites and public perception than to the details of laws citizens will be required to follow.
According to the Tulsa World, Sen. Anthony Sykes said the bill “removes the incentive to get injured and get a raise.”
Thing is, there is no way for inured workers to “get a raise” under today’s workers compensation system. The system allows workers with a temporary total disability to collect up to 70 percent of their wage, but no more than 100 percent of the state average weekly wage.
That means everybody who collects temporary disability benefits under the current system takes at least a 30 percent pay cut. Workers who earn more than the state’s average weekly wage – under the current system – are handed an even bigger pay cut while they recuperate.
Temporary total disability pay is for injured employees who are off work and receiving medical treatment. Oklahoma’s current average weekly wage – the most any temporarily disabled worker can collect — $771.
Even Opponents of Bill Didn’t Get It
Some of the apparent confusion evident in media reports seems to arise from a part of the bill that cuts the maximum amount payable to temporarily disabled workers from 100 percent of the state average weekly wage to only 70 percent of the state average. Senator Harry Coates reportedly told the Tulsa World that under the new system, “your current income doesn’t come into play into your benefits.”
Coates was the lone Republican to vote against the bill. He reportedly told the newspaper the reduction in benefits would hurt injured workers who earn more than the state average.
He’s right that the bill cuts maximum compensation for high-wage workers from 100 percent of the state average to 70 percent. But his statement, as the Tulsa World reported it, is wrong in so far as it asserts that under the new bill – or in the current system – workers’ wages don’t come into play.
The new bill states that a temporarily disabled employee will be “entitled to receive compensation equal to 70 percent of the injured employee’s average weekly wage, but not to exceed 70 percent of the state average weekly wage.”
The bill approved this week reduces the maximum weekly temporary total disability benefit from $771.00 to $539.70. Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to sign the new workers compensation law. The new bill would become effective Feb. 1, 2014.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Oklahoma Workers Compensation Attorney
If you’ve been injured on the job, it’s important to act now to be sure you collect all of the benefits to which you are entitled. For a free consultation with a Tulsa workers compensation attorney, call the Wirth Law Office – Tulsa at (918) 879-1681.