The right to workers’ compensation is an important one, and it applies to all workers, regardless of their immigration status. In the state of California, undocumented workers are entitled to the same workers’ compensation benefits as any other employee.
Under California state law, all employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. This means that if an undocumented worker is injured on the job, they are entitled to receive medical treatment and partial replacement of their wages. This is regardless of their immigration status.
There are two important things to note about the rights of undocumented workers in California when it comes to workers’ compensation.
First, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate, threaten, or retaliate against an employee based on their immigration status, who files a workers’ compensation claim for their work-related injury or to enforce other employment laws. An employer cannot refuse to provide workers’ compensation benefits to an undocumented worker.
Second, it is important for undocumented workers to report any work-related injuries or illnesses as soon as possible. In California, there is a time limit for reporting injuries and filing a claim for workers’ compensation. It is important not to delay reporting an injury that occurred at work or an injury that was caused or made worse while performing work.
CALIFORNIA PROTECTS UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS INJURED AT WORK.
The Public Policy Institute of California published an article about undocumented workers in March 2017, estimating California’s labor force includes about 1.75 million undocumented immigrants, which is about 10% of California’s total workforce. The article also found that most undocumented workers are employed in the agriculture, construction, and manufacturing industries. These industries have very high rates of work-related injuries.
Let’s clarify what we mean by “undocumented worker.” This refers to someone who is working in the United States without a valid work visa or other legal documentation.
Workers, regardless of immigration status, are entitled to the same rights and protections under California Labor Code Section 1171.5, including workers’ compensation benefits. Likewise, California courts have ruled that undocumented workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. California recognizes that the recovery of injury sustained by a worker who provides goods and services to the majority of the population is a matter of human rights and that both documented and undocumented workers suffer injuries at work.
So, if you’re an undocumented worker in California and you’ve been injured on the job, you have the right to seek medical treatment and receive financial benefits to help you recover from your injuries.
WHAT IS WORKER’S COMPENSATION?
California’s workers’ compensation system provides medical care and financial benefits to employees who are injured on the job or become ill as a result of their job. The definition of a work-related injury is broad and not limited to just an injury that occurs at a single incident on the work-site.
The purpose of this system is to ensure that employees who are injured or become ill due to work-related causes are able to receive the treatment they need and are able to support themselves and their families while they are unable to work.
To be eligible for workers’ compensation in California, an employee must have suffered a work-related injury or illness that requires medical treatment or time off work. This includes injuries that occur while on the job, as well as illnesses that are caused by the employee’s work environment or job duties.
WHAT IF MY EMPLOYER DIDN’T FOLLOW THE LAW AND DOESN’T HAVE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION INSURANCE?
Employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance. This insurance provides workers injured on the job with medical treatment for work-related illnesses or injuries, temporary disability benefits, permanent disability benefits, job retraining and other benefits, all at not cost to the employee.
If an employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance, workers can still apply for benefits through California’s Uninsured Employers Benefit Trust Fund, which pays claims to the worker and collects reimbursement from the employer. If the employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance, the employee, regardless of immigration status, is entitled to submit a claim for benefits to this fund. The procedures to file a claim with the trust fund are more complex and take more time to obtain benefits than a claim filed with an insurance company.
I’VE FILED MY CLAIM, NOW WHAT?
If you have suffered a work-related injury or illness, you should report it to your employer as soon as possible. Your employer is required to report the injury or illness to their workers’ compensation insurance carrier. Your report will start the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim and obtaining medical treatment and other benefits. Although the employer and its insurance company are obligated to assist you with your workers’ compensation claim, an attorney can help you understand your rights, prepare you for your deposition if there is one, and can help you navigate the workers’ compensation system to ensure that you receive the medical care and financial benefits you need.
Once your employer has reported your injury or illness, you will need to see a doctor for a medical evaluation. The doctor will determine the extent of your injury or illness and will provide a treatment plan. The treatment plan may include medications, physical therapy, and other medical treatments.
If you are unable to work due to your injury or illness, you may be eligible for temporary disability benefits. These benefits are designed to help you support yourself and your family while you are unable to work. The amount of the benefits you receive will depend on your average weekly wage at the time of your injury.
In addition to temporary disability benefits, you may also be eligible for permanent disability benefits if your injury or illness results in a permanent disability. Permanent disability benefits are designed to compensate you for your loss of earning capacity due to your injury or illness.
There are many different ways that a worker’s compensation claim may be processed. The insurance company may have its lawyer to take your deposition. There may be a medical evaluation by a neutral doctor who will prepare a report about your injuries and need for future medical care. Like civil cases, most workers’ compensation claims are resolved without the need for a trial.
LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS
There are some important things to keep in mind if you’re an undocumented worker and you’re considering filing for workers’ compensation benefits.
First, you should know that your employer cannot legally discriminate against you or retaliate against you for filing a claim. California Labor Code Section 244 prohibits an employer from reporting or threatening to report you or your family member’s immigration status to federal, state or local authorities just because you filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The penalties are substantial, from a $10,000 fine to loss of their business license.
Second, you should know that you do not need to provide any documentation about your immigration status when you file a claim. Your immigration status is not relevant to your claim, and it should not be considered when determining whether or not you are eligible for benefits.
Third, you should immediately report your work injury to your employer. You can report your injury to any manager, supervisor, the human relations department, or the owner of the company.
Finally, you should know that you have the right to have an attorney represent you in your workers’ compensation case.
Undocumented workers contribute to the California economy in vital industries. Undocumented workers, despite the fact that they are protected by California labor and employment laws, are often hesitant to report work-related injuries or other employment law issues because of fear—or actual threat—of employers retaliating by reporting their immigration status to federal, state, or local immigration enforcement authorities. The threat of retaliation gives employers extraordinary power to exploit and underpay undocumented workers.
Fortunately, Gateway Pacific Law Group helps all employees facing injury at work as well as other employment issues. We fight for your rights in order to protect you and your family. Do not hesitate to call us if you are injured at work or have other employment issues. This includes whether you have not been paid properly or whether you have been discriminated against or harassed at work. We help protect documented and undocumented workers. Calling 562-485-6151, starts the process of obtaining the assistance you need to enforce your rights or obtain medical care and other benefits while you are unable to work. Do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation. We are here to help you!
About The Author
Roger Haag is an attorney who specializes in consumer, labor, and employment law, primarily representing employees. Mr. Haag has extensive experience in various legal proceedings, including arbitration hearings, administrative hearings, bench and jury trials, and has even presented arguments before the California Courts of Appeal. Additionally, Mr. Haag served in the United States Navy and also has professional experience with the Department of the Navy’s Civilian Acquisition Workforce and Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel in Washington D.C.
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