Workers' compensation State laws

Workers’ comp opt-out provision unconstitutional, Oklahoma Supreme Court rules

Oklahoma State Capitol Building

Photo: sframephoto/iStockphoto

Oklahoma City – Jonnie Yvonne Vasquez occasionally needed to lift shoe boxes as part of her job at a department store in Oklahoma.

One day, as she lifted boxes, Vasquez injured her neck and shoulder. Soon after, she filed claims for benefits. But her employer had opted out of traditional workers’ compensation – as it was entitled to do by state law – and denied Vasquez’s claims for treatment.

Vasquez sued on the grounds that it was unconstitutional for the state to allow employers to opt out of traditional workers’ compensation plans. The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission agreed in a decision issued Feb. 26. The case then progressed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

On Sept. 13, the court sided with Vasquez and determined the state’s “Opt Out Act” to be unconstitutional. The 2013 law allowed employers to opt out of traditional, state-mandated workers’ compensation plans and provide other coverage options. Both Texas and Oklahoma offer opt-out alternatives to employers, and lawmakers in other states have explored the feasibility of introducing opt-out legislation.

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court justices did not mince words in their ruling.

“The Opt Out Act is an unconstitutional special law, creating an impermissible select group of employees seeking compensation for work-related injuries for disparate treatment,” they wrote in the decision.

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