It is not much different in Oklahoma from what we’ve seen in other states when it comes to injury reporting for a workers’ comp situation. In fact, the same generally applies here in this state as well. Employees are supposed to report an injury as soon as possible to their employers after the accident occurs on the job. Even better, the employee should report the injury to you in writing, making sure to keep a copy of their report for their own records and one for your records.
In Oklahoma, as in most of the other states that we have looked at, time is of the essence when filing these injury reports. So if an employee has had an accident and believes they may be injured—or even if they have had an accident and don’t think their injuries are serious enough to warrant a “big deal”—they should still get to you or their direct supervisor and let you know that something happened.
Any delay in this first report of injury can lead to problems down the road when it comes to dealing with the Oklahoma state workers’ comp officials and with your insurance company for workers’ comp coverage. Getting a report in quickly, on the other hand, goes a long ways to determining whether or not your employee starts getting compensated for their lost wages and for any medical expenses that they are building up.
In any of this whole process, as we have seen, disputes can arise between you and your employee, or between you, your employee, and your workers’ comp insurance company. In this case, the Oklahoma state workers’ comp commissioner officer can get involved and act as a dispute mediator. In some cases, too, the employee may get a trained workers’ comp lawyer to help defend their claim. You as an employer can also get a lawyer who specializes in defending the interests of employers in these cases.
There is some hot news coming out of the Oklahoma workers’ comp program, so instead of going into all of the details about the who, what, where, why, and when of their workers’ comp program, we can focus first on this key news to Oklahoma employers.
The short of it is that the state of Oklahoma has changed its Average Weekly Wage as of last year. How that effects workers’ comp is an interesting mathematical problem that we don’t want to, or need to, get into here. (Just so you know, I don’t think I pack the brain power to do the arithmetic anyway!)
But what happens is the maximum compensation rate—meaning the top money that an injured employee can get for missed wages from being out of work due to injury or illness that’s work related—has changed. The maximum compensation rate is now $577 per week for what’s called Temporary Total Disability.
For Permanent Total Disability and for Death benefits, the same holds true. The max compensation rate still stands at $577. But for Permanent Partial Disability, the new rate is $289 per week.
What are the all the differences between Permanent Total Disability, Partial Total Disability, and Temporary Total Disability? Well, one of the big differences is the length of time that the disability lasts. When the state of Oklahoma says Temporary—or when any workers’ comp program says that—that obviously means that that disability will eventually go away and the worker will go back to work.
Another difference is the extent of the disability. For instance, when the state says that the disability is Total, that means that the person cannot return to work in any function. Whereas, if the disability is Partial, that person can return to work with the disability and work in some capacity, even if it’s not in their original job.
While researching Oklahoma workers’ compensation information, I discovered that since 1986, workers in Oklahoma have collected more than $3.1 million in civil penalties from employers. Workers’ compensation insurance now also covers nearly 50,000 people and is mandated for some companies.
Here’s a brief history of the Oklahoma Standards Workers’ Compensation Enforcement Unit, which oversees Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation: basically, the unit came about in 1986 when the Oklahoma Legislature put into effect a new law that gave the Commissioner of Labor the authority to mandate that the state of Oklahoma enforced the workers’ compensation law.
The commissioner also was given permission to levy civil penalty fines if an act were found to be in violation of the law. The fine could be up to $10,000. Additionally, the commissioner was granted the authority to file criminal charges with the District Attorney if an employer were found to be in violation of the law.
Oklahoma is a right to work state, which means that individuals must protect their own assets and rights in cases where they could be in jeopardy or violation. If an employee is injured or gains a disability, he or she must pursue his or her own case with the DA and/or commissioner.
As of today, July 1, 2006, Ruth E. Estrich is the newest member of the Insurance Accounting and Systems Association (IASA) board of directors. She will be on this board for a term of one year. Estrich is the Vice President of marketing and development for MedRisk, an association that provides specialty managed care services and claims workflow management tools to the works’ compensation industry. Her more than 30 years of experience make her something of an expert in workers’ compensation, particularly in areas of technology and products.