Undocumented workers can get some workers’ compensation benefits under certain circumstances. It is important to ensure fair treatment for undocumented workers and protect their legal rights to maintain the integrity of the California workers’ comp system.
These cases are complicated as they can involve both state and federal law. If you’re an undocumented worker who suffered a job-related injury or illness, you could benefit from discussing your case with a workers’ compensation lawyer. They can handle the claims process and share what to expect.
Special Workers’ Compensation Rules that Apply to Undocumented Workers
When an undocumented employee gets injured or develops an illness that is work-related, they can qualify for some (but not all) benefits from the California workers’ compensation program. Here are some of the rules that apply to these undocumented individuals:
- If modified work is available while the injured worker is recuperating, the undocumented worker is not eligible for temporary disability benefits.
- The employer must have first discovered the employee’s immigration status after the injury because federal law makes it illegal to hire people who cannot legally work in this country.
- If an undocumented worker cannot get offered modified or permanent work because of their medical status, the employer must pay workers’ comp benefits.
- On the other hand, if the employer cannot offer a return to work because of the worker’s immigration status, as opposed to their medical status, the California workers’ compensation program will not pay the worker benefits.
- If permanent work is available, the undocumented worker cannot collect supplemental job displacement benefits because they cannot legally work there.
This can understandably get confusing. If you partner with a workers’ compensation lawyer, they can advise you on your options and navigate the process.
The Rights of an Undocumented Worker Who Has a Job-Related Illness or Injury
Federal law does not prohibit other benefits or rights of undocumented injured workers in our state. For example:
- If an injured worker, whether undocumented or not, commits workers’ compensation fraud, like trying to get benefits they do not qualify for by making false statements about their job injuries, they can face certain penalties, like the loss of their benefits.
- Filing false employment documents, like a forged birth certificate, to get a job is illegal, but it is not workers’ compensation fraud. So, it will not disqualify an undocumented worker from receiving workers’ comp benefits.
- An undocumented worker who has a covered job-related illness or injury is allowed to resolve their workers’ comp claim by reaching a settlement or agreeing to a Stipulated Award.
- Undocumented immigrants can get medical care for workplace injuries or illnesses through the workers’ compensation program. Also, after they achieve the maximum level of recuperation from their wounds or illness, if they still have impairments from their medical condition, they can receive permanent disability workers’ comp benefits.
Understanding Workers’ Comp for Undocumented Workers: a Scenario
Let’s say that an undocumented worker got injured at work, underwent medical treatment, and fully recovered. They could go back to work from a medical viewpoint, but the employer cannot offer them work because doing so would be illegal. As noted, it’s illegal to knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.
The worker cannot collect job displacement vouchers or other workers’ comp benefits after their treating physician releases them to work because their immigration status alone prohibits them from returning to work. This worker was, however, eligible for benefits like medical treatment and temporary disability payments when their inability to work was based on their medical condition.
The rules of the workers’ compensation program are tricky, and filing a workers’ comp claim can be even more challenging for undocumented workers, which is why it is essential to safeguard their rights.
Why It Is Important to Treat Undocumented Workers Fairly After They Get Injured
Some might argue that people who cannot work legally in the United States have no right to receive benefits from the California workers’ compensation program. They say that these benefits are a drain on taxpayers.
Taxpayers do not pay for an injured employee’s workers’ comp benefits. The employer buys an insurance policy that covers workers’ comp claims, just as the employer buys a liability insurance policy that covers company vehicles.
An unethical boss who wanted to keep down the cost of their workers’ compensation insurance premiums could knowingly hire undocumented workers and deny them workers’ comp benefits because of their immigration status if allowed to do so. The employer would have less incentive to provide a safe workplace, even though safe workplaces are a primary reason we have workers’ compensation programs.
Workers’ Compensation Programs and Immigration Issues
Workers’ comp programs provide coverage for medical bills and other benefits regardless of the employer’s or employee’s fault. Our state’s workers’ compensation program does not deal with immigration issues except for the employer’s ability to rehire the injured worker.
The program’s purpose is to “minimize the adverse impact of work-related injuries on California employees and employers,” according to the Division of Workers’ Compensation. This mission statement does not mention any interest in the immigration status of an injured worker in our state. Still, if you’re an undocumented worker, you have legal rights.
Begin Your Free Case Review With Our Workers’ Comp Lawyers
You have options if you suffered an injury on the job as an undocumented worker. KJT Law Group can discuss filing a workers’ comp claim or appealing a denial of benefits. Get started today when you call (818) 507-8525.