Recently, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided to strike down opt-out provision from the state’s workers’ compensation law. An “opt-out” provision allows employer to refuse to participate in the state’s workers’ compensation program.
Now, Texas is the only state in the U.S. that allows private companies to opt out of the state-run workers’ compensation system and create their own benefit plans for injured workers (if they choose to have a benefit program at all). That said, Texas worker union organizations are wondering if the argument made for Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation laws could be used to help strike down the Texas opt-out provision as well.
Striking Texas’s Opt-Out Provision Would Help Workers
Large companies, such as H-E-B, Home Depot, Macy’s, Walmart, Costco and Lowes have opted out of the Texas workers’ comp system, in spite of the fact they are large corporations that can afford to provide decent benefits to injured workers. Instead, they provide private plans that often offer less benefit and give these companies almost complete control over all health care decisions for injured workers.
These plans allow employers to make their own rules. For example, in most plans, the injured worker has less than 24 hours or by the end of their shift to report the injury, regardless of whether the worker’s injury makes that possible. Otherwise, workers do not receive benefits. Moreover, if a worker sustains a fatal workplace injury, these plans offer nothing to that worker’s family.
According to a survey from 2014, more than 1.4 million Texas workers were covered by similar non-subscriber programs and more than 470,000 workers were without any form of workers’ compensation benefits. That means if those workers sustained workplace injuries, they would be solely responsible for all medical costs and lost wages.
In 1972, the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws recommended workers’ compensation become mandatory in all states. However, Texas and Oklahoma never made the transition and kept their employer opt-out provisions. Now that Oklahoma nixed that outdated provision and joined the rest of the nation, it’s time for Texas to get on board and do the same.
Aaron Allison is a Texas workers’ compensation attorney who fights for injured workers. Out of the 90,000 lawyers in Texas, he is one of the 40 who represent workers injured on the job.