Oklahoma’s Top Court: Companies Can’t Set Own Rules for Injured Workers

This story was co-published with NPR.


A national campaign to rewrite state laws and allow businesses to decide how to care for their injured workers suffered a significant setback Tuesday when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma's version of the law is unconstitutional.


The 2013 legislation gave Oklahoma employers the ability to "opt out" of the state workers' compensation system and write their own plans, setting the terms for what injuries were covered, which doctors workers could see, how workers were compensated and how disputes were handled. The statute was backed by the oil and gas industry and retailer Hobby Lobby.


Buoyed by the success in Oklahoma, proponents took the idea nationwide as a coalition led by Walmart, Lowe's and several of the largest retail, trucking and health care companies sought to pass similar laws across the country. Bills and draft proposals have been floated in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Illinois.


Last year, an investigation by ProPublica and NPR found that the plans typically had lower benefits and more restrictions than workers' comp. The story was part of a series on how states have been dismantling workers' comp, which was designed a century ago to protect businesses from lawsuits while providing medical care and lost wages to workers who had been hurt on the job.


Tuesday's decision is the latest in a series of state Supreme Court rulings that have struck down several business-driven workers' comp laws featured in the ProPublica and NPR investigation.


The Florida Supreme Court struck down laws that placed strict caps on attorney fees and limited workers to two years of temporary disability pay regardless of whether they were able to return to work. Two-year caps have also been passed in California, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas.


In addition, the top Oklahoma court in April overturned a provision that drastically cut compensation for workers who suffered permanently disabling injuries. Florida, New York and Tennessee have also significantly reduced benefits for such injuries in the past 13 years, but those provisions are still in place.


The stories also prompted two groups — one of academics and one of workers' comp regulators — to schedule separate forums later this month to discuss the various changes that have occurred and ways to improve workers' comp.


Oklahoma's ruling leaves Texas as the only state that lets employers opt out of workers' comp insurance.


Bob Burke, a longtime workers' comp attorney who has filed several successful challenges to Oklahoma's new law, called opt out "the biggest attack on the American worker" since he started practicing law.


Had the Supreme Court not acted, the Oklahoma opt-out law "would have deprived injured workers out of necessary surgeries and weekly benefits," he said in an email. "Opt out also would have allowed companies to shift the cost of paying for work-related injuries to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."


Bill Minick, a Dallas lawyer whose company PartnerSource wrote most of the Oklahoma opt-out plans and about half of those in Texas, said in a statement that the ruling was specific to "Oklahoma's unique constitution." He vowed that his company and other supporters would continue their efforts to promote the alternative plans in other states.


"We believe it's critical to provide better care and benefits for injured workers, decrease the number of disputed claims and significantly decrease insurance premiums and claim costs for all employers," he said.


The Oklahoma case involved an employee at Dillard's department store who injured her neck and shoulder while lifting shoeboxes in 2014. Dillard's, which had opted out of workers' comp and created its own benefit plan, initially paid for her medical care. But the company later denied her claims, insisting that any further damage and surgeries she might need were due to a preexisting degenerative condition and not her injury at work.


In a 7–2 ruling, the justices found that such opt-out plans were unconstitutional because they treated one group of injured workers differently from all other injured workers in the state. In a concurring opinion, Justices Noma Gurich and Tom Colbert noted that while most Oklahoma workers have 30 days to report an injury and can request a hearing before a judge, Dillard's employees had to report injuries by the end of the workday and could only appeal in writing to a committee made up of people picked by the company.


The court sent the case back to the state's workers' comp commission to determine whether the injury was work-related and what benefits, if any, the woman should receive.


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India to miss target for universal upper-secondary education by 50 Years
India will not have universal upper secondary education (covering the age group 14-17 years and 9th to 12th standard) till 2085, over half a century late, according to the Global Education Monitoring Report 2016 by Unesco.
This has to be viewed against the recent improvements in education in India, most notably that there has been an overall increase in gross enrolment ratio (GER, or student enrolment as a proportion of the corresponding eligible age group in a given year) at almost every level of education as of 2013-14.
Gender disparity in schooling has been largely addressed, and the enrolment of girls in higher education increased from 39% in 2007 to 46% in 2014.
An increase in single-sex toilets in schools has led to an increase in the enrolment of adolescent girls and female teachers, the Unesco study shows.
However, there is still large disparity in achievement of basic skills, such as reading and math, where there has been a decline in learning outcomes, as highlighted in the Unesco report.
Absenteeism among teachers remains a problem. As many as 25% teachers in primary schools remain absent from work, and only 50% of those at school are actually engaged in teaching activities, a 2004 World Bank report suggested. Almost 24% teachers were absent during random visits to rural schools, according to a September 2015 study by the University of California.
The government has not established any bonus to incentivise teachers and principals, the Minister of Human Resource Development informed the Lok Sabha in April 2016.
E-pathshala, launched in 2015 and aimed at promoting e-learning through e-resources like textbooks, audio and video material, was among the steps taken to tackle the shortage of good teachers, the minister said.
Stunting too is a problem. As many as 39%, or 61.8 million, Indian children who are five or younger are stunted, as IndiaSpend reported in July. This is 15% higher than the global average.
In terms of educational achievement, studies show that stunting at age two leads to children completing one year less of school. Those stunted before age five achieve less schooling and lower test performances.
Another sustainable development goal that India will miss is to have only 100 million children stunted in 2025.
The current trends suggest that there will be 127 million children stunted in that year. A major problem that is preventing stunting is lack of global and local funding, as IndiaSpend reported earlier.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.



MG Warrier

1 year ago

Such scaring propaganda about future may not do any good for the purposes they intend to serve. There is no denying the fact that healthcare, education and humanresources management do not get the attention they deserve in most of the states in India. But, if there is political will, bringing down school drop-out levels down much faster than projected by such studies is not unachievable. States like Kerala have reached near 100 per cent literacy and there are different geographical areas in India which have achieved higher levels in other human development indicators. Outside agencies which carry out such studies need to move out to places farther from Delhi while selecting samples for study and take into account changes taking place in different states. One gets a doubt whether getting gloomy pictures like this is being encouraged by vested interests having an eye on 'AID'. In any case 50 years is unacceptably long period to take India to near 100 per cent literacy and improving quality and coverage of education to acceptable levels.

Centre issues guidelines on direct selling
Following consistent demand by customers of e-commerce business, the Centre on Monday said the "model guidelines" of direct selling had been formulated and the states informed accordingly.
According to the guidelines, any direct selling entity conducting sales activities shall submit an undertaking to the Department of Consumer Affairs within 90 days, stating that it is in compliance with these guidelines and shall also provide details of its incorporation, official sources said here.
By definition, direct selling includes demonstration and sale of products and services to consumers, usually in their homes or at their jobs.
Officials say in the era of internet and e-commerce, direct selling would mean sales made through e-contact arrangements as well as internet sales.
Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan told reporters that "The state governments and union territories should now take necessary actions to implement the same". 
It is envisaged in the guidelines that the state governments will set up a mechanism to monitor and supervise the activities of Direct Sellers, Direct Selling Entity regarding compliance of the guidelines for Direct Selling.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.


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