If you were injured or got sick because of your job in Oklahoma, you may be eligible to receive a range of benefits through the state workers’ compensation system, including medical treatment and payments to cover part of your lost wages. Your eligibility for specific benefits—and the amount you receive—will depend on several factors unique to your case, including the nature of your injuries, your ability to return to work, and the amount you earned before you were hurt. This article explains how the most important workers’ comp benefits are calculated in Indiana. (To get these benefits, you’ll need to file a workers’ comp claim and show that your injury or illness is work related.)
Can You Get Workers’ Comp in Oklahoma If You Get COVID-19 on the Job?
Under Oklahoma law, workers’ compensation will cover an infectious illness only if you can prove that the disease resulted from the nature of your work—which presented a hazard of exposure to the illness—and that you actually contracted the disease while you were working and because of your work. The law also says that workers’ comp doesn’t cover an “ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed.” (Okla. Stat. tit. 85a, § 65 (2020).)
It’s not clear whether workers’ comp judges in Oklahoma will consider COVID-19 to be an ordinary disease of life. Still, under the state’s requirements, it would be difficult for most employees to qualify for workers’ comp benefits for the illness. Some employees, like first responders or medical workers providing direct care to COVID-19 patients, could probably show that the nature of their jobs present a particular risk of exposure to the coronavirus. But they also need evidence proving that, more likely than not, they actually contracted the disease at work rather than during the rest of their lives.
In response to the pandemic, some states have enacted measures making it easier for certain frontline employees to get workers’ comp benefits for COVID-19 by presuming that the disease is work related unless the employer proves otherwise. Oklahoma has not joined those states.
If you aren’t able to return to your regular job duties—or you can’t work at all—while you’re recovering from your injuries, you may be eligible for temporary disability benefits. In Oklahoma, these benefits aren’t paid for the first three days that you’re out of work. (Okla. Stat. tit. 85a, § 45(A) (2020).)
You’ll be entitled to receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits if your injury or illness prevents you from performing your job or any alternate work that your employer offers you. TTD benefits are calculated as 70% of your average weekly wage (AWW) in the year preceding your injury, up to a maximum based on average statewide wages. For injuries that happened in 2020, the maximum TTD benefit is $898.63. (To find the maximum benefits for other years, go to the website for the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC), in the dropdown menu under “Legal,” click “Benefit Charts”; then click on “Maximum Historical Comp Rate Chart.” You can also find a general guide to workers’ comp in the state by clicking “Workers” on the main page.)
Even though these benefits are lower than your normal earnings, it’s worth pointing out that workers’ comp benefits are generally not taxable.
You will continue to receive TTD benefits until you:
The time limit on TTD benefits is generally 156 weeks. There are much shorter limits for soft tissue injuries (eight weeks), hernias (six weeks), and psychological problems resulting from the original physical injury (26 weeks). All of these limits may be extended under certain circumstances. (Okla. Stat. tit. 85a, §§ 13, 61, 62, 45(A) (2020).)
If you can’t perform your normal job duties while you’re recovering from your injuries, but you’re able to do any alternative work that your employer has offered, you’ll be entitled to receive temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits—unless you refuse that alternative work offer. These benefits are calculated as 70% of the difference between your pre-injury average weekly wages and your current earnings. However, the combination of your actual earnings and your TPD benefits may not add up to more than the TTD rate.
For example, say you earned $900 per week before your injury, and you’re now working at a light-duty job that pays $500. The basic calculation of TPD benefits would come to $280 ($900 – $500 = $400 X .7). However, $280 plus your actual earnings would total $780 per week, which is higher than the TTD rate for your pre-injury wages ($900 X .7 = $630). So as not to exceed that TTD rate, your TPD benefits would only be $130 a week ($500 + $130 = $630).
You may continue receiving TPD benefits until you reach MMI or return to work at your pre-injury wages, or for a maximum of 52 weeks. (Okla. Stat. tit. 85a, § 45(B) (2020).)
Once you reach MMI, a doctor will evaluate you to see if your work-related injury or illness has left you with any permanent limitations and, if so, to what extent.
If you have permanent limitations that don’t completely prevent you from working, the doctor will give you a permanent partial disability (PPD) rating, expressed in a percentage. PPD benefits will be 70% of your pre-injury wages, up to a maximum of $350 per week (as of May 28, 2019), multiplied by a number of weeks that depends on the percentage of your disability rating and the affected parts of your body.
A schedule in Oklahoma law lists the number of weeks for amputation or total lost use of certain body parts (mostly the extremities, ears, and eyes). For less than total loss of use, the PPD formula will use a number of weeks proportional to the percentage of impairment. For example, the schedule shows 220 weeks for loss of a hand. If you lost 50% of the use of a hand, you would receive 70% of your pre-injury wages or $350 (whichever is less) for 110 weeks—or a total maximum benefit for that impairment of $38,500.
Permanent impairments to other parts of the body—such as a back injury, head injury, or damaged kidney—are compensated as a percentage of the whole body, which is worth a total of 360 weeks. So if the doctor gave you a whole body PPI rating of 25% for a back injury, you would receive benefits for 90 weeks (25% of 360), for total maximum benefits of $31,500 ($350 X 90). (In the “Benefits Charts” section on the WCC website, referenced above, you can find “PPD Rate Charts” that show estimated benefit calculations for percentages of disability to the whole body and to scheduled body parts.)
If your injury has left you with serious and permanent disfigurement, and you haven’t received other PPD benefits for the affected part of your body, you may receive an award for the disfigurement, up to a maximum of $50,000.
PPD benefits are paid regardless of whether you return to your pre-injury job. Instead of getting these benefits in weekly payments, you may agree to receive a lump sum for the total amount as part of a workers’ comp settlement. (Okla. Stat. tit. 38a, §§ 45(C), 45(F), 46 (2020).)
If your injury or illness has left you completely unable to earn wages doing any kind of suitable work, given your experience and training (including training you received through vocational rehabilitation), you’ll be entitled to receive permanent total disability benefits at the same rate as TTD benefits. These payments will continue for 15 years or until you reach the full Social Security retirement age, whichever happens later. To keep receiving the payments, however, you must file an affidavit every year confirming that you still aren’t capable of gainful employment. (Okla. Stat. tit. 85a, § 45(D) (2020).)
Oklahoma workers’ compensation also provides additional benefits, including:
If your employer’s insurance company has denied your workers’ comp claim, is holding back benefits, or won’t authorize needed medical treatment, you should consider speaking with a workers’ comp lawyer. A local attorney who's experienced in this area can evaluate your case, discuss the advisability of filing an appeal, make sure your rights are protected in a settlement agreement, and help you get all of the benefits you deserve. (Learn more about how a good workers’ comp lawyer can help.)