Shawn Ashley, eCapitol
The Workers’ Compensation Commission will expand its staff by two employees following two decisions Wednesday.
The three-member commission voted unanimously to create the position of legal operations director, and by taking no action, gave Chair Robert Gilliland the go-ahead to hire a compliance officer for its Tulsa office.
Commissioner Mark Liotta made the motion to create the legal operations director position. Liotta said the past year has shown him the importance of the docketing and other procedural processes of the commission, something he did not realize one year ago.
“These need to be maintained as a separate and independent unit,” he said.
Oversight of those operations currently falls largely to the executive director, Liotta said, and the administrative law judges also take on many related responsibilities. In the past year, he noted, the number of orders produced by the administrative law judges, who review and hear workers compensation cases, has increased more than 100 percent.
Liotta said approximately a dozen commission employees would be affected by creating the position and placing the commission clerk and its records, docketing, court reporters, order writers, legal administration and Tulsa office administration divisions under its supervision.
Commissioner Dr. Leroy Young asked whether the person who will fill the position would have to be an attorney. Liotta and Gilliland said that would not be a requirement for the post. “It will be someone who can manage the people and the processes,” said Liotta.
All three commissioners voted in favor of creating the position and placing the various divisions under it.
The three commissioners were not in agreement with a plan to employ a compliance officer for the commission’s Tulsa office.
Liotta said work began on filing the post more than a year ago, when the appropriate paperwork for an exception to Gov. Mary Fallin’s hiring freeze was submitted to and approved by Secretary of State Chris Benge.
Liotta said he believed the position needed to be filled because the current compliance staff had a backlog of approximately 250 leads of businesses that were operating without appropriate workers’ compensation insurance or a workers’ compensation plan. Also, he said, the absence of a compliance officer in the Tulsa office meant site visits there could not be made and no one was ever available in the office to speak with whistleblowers, company representatives or their attorneys.
Liotta noted the purpose of adding a compliance officer in Tulsa would not be to generate fine revenue but to ensure that employees had proper coverage. Gilliland agreed, noting an injured worker of a firm without a workers’ compensation policy would have to pursue the case in district court, which could be costly and take many years to resolve. “In the meantime, they are not receiving any benefits,” he added.
Young questioned the need for the position to be filled. Young asked whether a needs assessment had been conducted to determine if the position was needed.
“Are we so far behind we need another employee up there?” asked Young.
Gilliland said he believed the addition of an employee was a small cost to pay compared to the potential risk a worker would face if they were injured at a company without appropriate workers’ compensation coverage.
The commission did not vote to move forward with filling the position. Instead, Liotta noted that the commission’s statutes gave the Gilliland, as chair, the authority to hire staff as necessary to fulfill the duties of the commission. To conduct a formal vote, he said, would be counter to that authority.
Gilliland did not indicate when he would begin the process of filling the position.