It has been a busy year in the Oregon legislature, but there has been only one major change to the statutes governing workers’ compensation. Senate Bill 507 creates a new presumption of compensability for certain mental health claims filed by first responders working for public entities. If a claim does not meet all of the criteria in the new law, the worker can still pursue a mental health claim under ORS 656.802(3) without the use of the presumption.
Here are the key points of the new law:
Only applies to public employers;
Only applies to listed professions;
Employees can file injury claim on first day of job, but requires 5 years of employment for an occupational disease;
Covers employees for up to 7 years after employment ends;
Only applies to claim for acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder;
Requires diagnosis from psychiatrist or psychologist;
Presumption of compensability can be rebutted by employer proving through clear and convincing evidence the work duties were “not of real importance or great consequence” in causing the condition;
Does not preclude employer from issuing a ceases denial;
Applies to claims filed on the 91st day after the legislative sessions ends.
There were a few other proposals that did not move forward.
The Oregon Trial Lawyers Association introduced House Bill 3022, which contained four major and dozens more minor changes to the workers’ compensation system. After many long meetings with the Management-Labor Advisory Committee, we were able to narrow the focus of the bills to two changes. The first change was to allow for diagnostic medical services to be more expansive than just directed at accepted conditions. The second change was to make combined condition denials (on initial compensability) and ceases denials (after claim acceptance) to both relate back to the work injury.
While HB 3022 was working its way through the legislature, the Oregon Supreme Court decided Garcia-Solis v. Farmers Ins. Co., 365 Or 26 (2019). The court ruled that medical services for conditions caused in material part by the work injury incident, not just accepted conditions, are compensable under ORS 656.245(1)(a). We recently provided an update on the impact of that decision. All the stakeholders involved agreed it made sense to put HB 3022 on hold until the new case law was sorted out regarding medical services.
Finally, several vocational counselors proposed House Bill 2413. Generally, a worker is entitled to a training program if they are unable to find suitable employment within 80% of their wages at the time of the injury. This bill would have increased that threshold to 95%. The bill also would have required temporary disability benefits to be paid when a program is extended from 16 to 21 months. Ultimately, the bill did not move forward.
If you have any questions or concerns about these legislative issues or want to know how they might affect your claim processing, please do not hesitate to contact me.