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Reporting a Workplace Injury: Put it In Writing

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Want to know the simplest thing you can do to help your workers’ compensation claim?

As soon as possible, report the injury to your employer – and be sure to put it in writing.

Particularly with back, shoulder and knee injuries, it’s important to report the injury early and in writing. Not doing so could affect your ability to collect workers’ compensation benefits for your injuries or make it harder to your claim accepted and approved.

Here’s a common scenario we encounter: The client lifts something on the job and tweaks his back. He’s definitely hurt. But he doesn’t officially report the injury to his employer in writing, figuring the aches and pains will subside with time. But they don’t, and the condition worsens. After weeks or months of being in chronic pain, the client finally goes to see a doctor and mentions that this all started that day he tweaked his back in the warehouse. When he reports the injury to his employer, the insurance company refuses to accept the claim.

Just telling your supervisor about the injury is not sufficient. You need a written, dated record that it was reported.

Some employers may have you fill out an internal form reporting an injury. But many will not. The gold standard in workplace injury reporting is to complete a Form 18 to be submitted to the N.C. Industrial Commission (NCIC). (It is best if this form is filled out by your attorney representing you in your workers’ compensation claim.)

But there are other types of written documentation that are legally acceptable written methods of notifying your employer of an injury. These include:

  • a text message or email outlining what happened and when
  • a letter to your employer
  • a signed statement
  • an accident report form
  • a recording of a voicemail or phone call in which you report the injury to your employer
  • a work note from your doctor, indicating that you sought treatment after a workplace injury

Always make sure you keep a copy of this notice of an injury – whether it’s a form, email message or recording. Make a photocopy or take a photograph of this documentation so you and your attorney have it. Keep it in a safe place and make backup copies so you don’t lose it.

If you’re unsure about how or who to report an injury top at your workplace, consult your employee handbook. Most companies have formal systems in place for dealing with workers’ compensation injury reports. Telling a coworker you were injured will probably not count as notifying your employer. But telling your supervisor or a dispatcher you were hurt on the job likely satisfies the legal requirement. If you’re unsure who to tell about your injury, ask your boss or someone in human resources. A board certified workers’ compensation attorney can also help.

Workers Compensation for Undocumented Workers, Part 3: Handling Challenging Claims

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This is Part 3 of our series on workers’ compensation for undocumented immigrants. You can find links to the entire series here.

It is not unusual for undocumented workers to use a pseudonym, or false name, when seeking employment. In fact, it’s not unusual for several people to share the same pseudonym.

It’s important your attorney know if you used a pseudonym for employment or medical treatment. It could complicate your case, but it does not mean you are ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits for medical treatment.

Attorneys are ethically prohibited from including a false name on a Form 18, which is used to report a workplace injury to the N.C. Industrial Commission and the employer. That’s why it’s important that our clients tell us if they have used someone else’s name, birth date or documentation to get a job or medical care.

Sometimes, if a pseudonym is being used for medical treatment by multiple people, many health care providers will flag this as fraud and will not turn over the medical records. If they do release the records, questions can arise about whether medical treatment was obtained by the injured worker or someone else using the same name and birth date.

We have dealt with these issues before, and we’ve been successful in navigating the complications that arise when someone uses a psuedonym.

At the Deuterman Law Group, we pursue all avenues to obtain our clients’ complete and accurate medical records and other evidence necessary to litigate claims. We don’t just work the telephones or email; we have even driven to medical providers’ offices in the past to get the appropriate records!

Language barriers in Workers’ Comp Cases

As I mentioned earlier in this series, our workers’ compensation team speaks fluent Spanish, and they are uniquely qualified to cater to the Hispanic population.

Language and cultural barriers can cause lots of problems in workers’ compensation cases. It’s not unusual for these issues to lead to inaccurate reports in medical records, accident reports and other documents.

If that’s the situation in your case, don’t worry. All hope is not lost. When working with our Spanish-speaking clients, we take the time to ask about and investigate inaccuracies. Our goal is to find out how these inaccuracies happened and to find a logical explanation to preserve your claim.

All of our clients have the opportunity to meet with an attorney at the start of their claim. From the very beginning, we will address any immediate issues in the claim. We will go over basics of workers’ compensation and outline your responsibilities and ours throughout the claim. We don’t want you to be surprised by anything that happens as your case progresses.

As mentioned previously, one of the issues we will deal with when handling an undocumented worker’s claim is whether to disclose that person’s immigration status. Anything you tell your attorney or paralegal about your immigration status is confidential. You can read more about how immigration status affects a workers’ comp claim here.

Many insurance adjusters will ask the injured worker about their immigration status in a recorded statement. Many times, these interviews are conducted before the injured worker hires an attorney.

We recommend that injured workers do not participate in a recorded statement before talking to an attorney.

At the Deuterman Law Group, we take seriously our role as your advocate. We prepare our clients to make a recorded statement by telling them what to expect and informing them of common questions asked during these interviews.

Talking to an attorney before giving a recorded statement is especially important for injured workers who do not speak English.

While the insurance company should provide an interpreter, many adjusters will conduct the recorded statement in English. As you can imagine, this can cause all sorts of problems.

Even if an interpreter is provided, we don’t advise our clients to use the one hired by the insurance company.

When our clients are providing a recorded statement, we will also provide an interpreter from our office. It is not uncommon for an interpreter to have a different dialect and completely misinterpret something. An English speaker would not have someone filtering his responses, so we will not let the interpreter filter for our Spanish-speaking clients either.

Our attorneys actively participate when clients provide a recorded statement to an adjuster. We will object to issues with the interpreter and also to any questions about immigration status.

 

Workers’ Compensation for Undocumented Workers, Part 2: Your Rights Under NC Law

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This is Part 2 of our series on workers’ compensation for undocumented immigrants. You can find links to the entire series here.

North Carolina is home to about 250,000 undocumented immigrants, who represent more than 5 percent of the state’s labor force.

These workers are entitled to the same legal protections as anyone else if they get hurt on the job. But fear and intimidation prevent many of these undocumented workers from reporting their injuries and seeking the medical treatment and compensation they need and rightfully deserve.

Your immigration status has no bearing on your ability to collect workers’ compensation benefits in North Carolina. That’s the truth, no matter what anyone else has told you, including your boss or your coworkers.

Your right to workers’ compensation – including payment for lost wages and medical treatment – is spelled out in state law.

If you are undocumented and living and working in North Carolina, your fear of deportation is very real. We understand that you may not want to rock the boat or risk leaving the life you’ve built here by reporting that you’ve been hurt at work.

But keeping quiet will not help you heal. It will not pay your medical bills. It will not provide for your family when you’re in too much pain to work.

Please know that as your attorney, anything you tell us is confidential. That means we will not reveal your immigration status.

As for the other side in the case, legal ethics rules are also very clear. The defense attorney and the insurance carrier in your workers’ compensation case ethically cannot use information discovered in the course of the claim to report the injured worker to ICE.

However, the individuals in the claim (namely employers, particularly those who are uninsured) are not bound by these same ethical rules. We will also do everything within our legal power to make sure your employer doesn’t retaliate by reporting you to immigration officials. We won’t tolerate bullying or threats of deportation from employers who are trying to get out of paying a legitimate workers’ comp claim.

Knowing this, we understand it can be extremely stressful and frightening to file a workers’ compensation claim if you are undocumented. But trust me when I say we have lots of experience with these types of cases and many good outcomes for our clients. We also understand the cultural and language issues involved in these types of cases.

Our workers’ compensation team speaks fluent Spanish, and they are uniquely qualified to cater to the Hispanic population.

We will work hard to earn your trust and fight for your case. And we also keep you informed every step of the way, through face-to-face meetings, telephone updates or whatever method you prefer. We do not charge for these meetings or phone conferences.

We provide copies of most documents in Spanish and in English for our clients, and we do not charge our Spanish speakers for the use of an interpreter.

Please keep these things in mind as you decide whether to file a workers’ compensation claim or keep silent about your injury.

You’re not doing yourself any favors by ignoring your injury and working through the pain.

This is what many employers expect you to do. Many companies knowingly hire undocumented workers as a way of avoiding their legal and moral obligation to keep their workers safe. They know many undocumented immigrants will not pursue workers’ compensation benefits because they’re afraid of being discovered.

These companies are doing something illegal, too. It is illegal for them to hire undocumented workers, but they do it anyway to keep their labor and safety costs down. These companies know it’s illegal to have an unsafe workplace, but they know many undocumented workers won’t report them.

It is a terrible cycle that victimizes undocumented workers.

North Carolina companies who have more than three employees are legally required to provide workers’ compensation coverage for their entire workforce. When someone is hurt (or killed) on the job, they owe the injured worker (or their family) compensation for injuries, lost wages and medical care. Companies that break the law can face stiff fines, and their owners can face serious criminal charges.

Filing and collecting on a workers’ compensation claim can be challenging for any injured person. But it can be especially difficult for undocumented immigrants. That’s why it’s important to have an attorney and legal team whose sole focus is workers’ compensation working on your behalf to ensure your rights are protected and you get the benefits you deserve.

Workers’ Compensation for Undocumented Workers: A New Blog Series

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Today we begin a new series on the blog about the process of applying for workers’ compensation in North Carolina if you are an undocumented worker.

Despite what your employer, the insurance company or coworkers may have told you, if you are hurt at work, you are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits regardless of your immigration status.  These benefits include lost wages and medical treatment, as well as death benefits for family members of workers killed on the job.

Workers’ compensation cases involving undocumented workers can be challenging, and the other side will do everything they can to deny benefits. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced team of attorneys and paralegals working on your behalf. We have an entire bilingual team here at the Deuterman Law Group who are qualified to represent undocumented workers and who will work to get them the full range of benefits they are entitled.

In this multi-part series, we will cover the following:

  • An undocumented workers’ rights under the law
  • Whether you can be fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim
  • Whether you can be deported for filing a workers’ compensation claim
  • How immigration status affects a workers’ compensation claim</li>
  • Your rights to an interpreter in court and for medical appointments
  • What happens if you’ve worked using a different name or a borrowed Social Security number
  • Where to get medical treatment if you’ve been injured on the job
  • The importance of medical treatment
  • What to do if the company denies you are an employee
  • Determining whether you were an employee or an independent contractor
  • What happens if your employer doesn’t carry workers’ compensation insurance
  • The role of our firm investigator plays in collecting evidence for your workers’ comp claim
  • How to prove employment when no official records exist
  • What to expect during a workers’ compensation claim hearing or mediation
  • Death benefits available to the families of workers killed on the job
  • Wrapping up your claim and collecting your benefits