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.