Archive for the ‘Workers’ Rights’ Category

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


NC’s governor is taking away workers’ rights

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It’s been happening under the radar screen (unless you’ve been following our warnings about Gov. Pat McCrory’s unchecked power grab). The governor, his political allies and big business and insurance industry lobbyists are trying to to dismantle the N.C. workers’ compensation system.

They want to make it harder for injured workers to get the benefits and medical treatment they need and deserve — because doing so will make insurance companies and big businesses richer.

The INDY newspaper in Durham has a frankly frightening article about how McCrory has been quietly skewing the workers’ comp system. To favor business and insurance companies — at the expense of injured people. How wrong is that?

There was the provision in this summer’s final budget bill that reclassified workers’ comp judges, allowing the governor, through the newly appointed Industrial Commission chairman, to get rid of current commissioners and put in less experienced judges who will do his bidding, instead of ruling on workers’ comp cases fairly and considering the law. 

“The logic for reclassifying and replacing these career civil servants is quite clear: to get different results and fewer workers’ comp payouts, you have to replace the referees,” the newspaper reports.

The once balanced industrial commission, with judges representing the interest of both injured workers and business, no longer exists.

Under its new chairman Andrew Heath, “the Industrial Commission now also has a legislative agenda.”

Emails obtained by the INDY earlier this year showed Industrial Commission staffers—employees of an ostensibly impartial judicial body—working intimately with Sen. Thom Goolsby to craft HB369, a law sponsored by Goolsby to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving worker’s comp benefits. Heath’s law clerk wrote to Goolsby that the proposed legislation “had been discussed with, and supported by the Governor’s Office”—which would seem to indicate that the head of a judicial body was working with the Governor to get legislation passed. These records were sent to the INDY with a note from Department of Commerce media liasons that the information in the e-mail about the Governor supporting the legislation was not, in fact, correct. In a written response to questions, Heath denied any impropriety, saying the legislative work was done at Goolsby’s request and that his law clerk had simply made a “misstatement” to Thom Goolsby about Governor McCrory’s support of the controversial legislation.

Before you vote in the upcoming North Carolina midterm election on Nov. 4, you need to read the entire INDY article.

When you do, I think you’ll realize it’s more important than ever to vote for candidates who support workers’ rights and not those who are puppets for the insurance industry. We need checks and balances in our government and we need to stop this underhanded assault on hardworking North Carolinians. and their legal rights.

Download a copy of a our 2014 North Carolina Voters Guide to take with you to the polls on Nov. 4.

“Hot Coffee” Viewing Parties

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We’ve written here before about “Hot Coffee,” the documentary that tells the real story of the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit brought by Stella Liebeck and the real cost of so-called tort reform.

The McDonald’s case became a rallying cry for advocates of so-called “tort reform,” and general public opinion is that Liebeck’s was a frivolous lawsuit, when in fact, she suffered extremely serious burns requiring multiple operations and skin grafts. And she wasn’t the first person to be hurt by McDonald’s scalding hot coffee; the fast food chain had received more than 700 complaints about the temperature of its coffee before Liebeck was burned. 

The producers of the documentary, “Hot Coffee,” not only want to set the record straight about Liebeck’s lawsuit, but they also want to educate people about how “tort reform” poses a dire threat to our civil justice system — and the ability of injured people, like Liebeck, to fight back against huge corporations, like McDonald’s, that do them legitimate harm.

“Hot Coffee” has screened for audiences around the country, and it’s also in regular rotation on HBO. Now, the producers are encouraging people to host their own viewing parties of the documentary to get the truth about tort reform out before the November elections.

We’re full into the 2012 Election Cycle. We have learned that change happens at the local level, one person at a time. We each have the ability to make change if we take action. We’ve seen evidence of the grassroots at work this year with businesses and organizations leaving ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Counci) in droves, and with Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in every town and city. Let’s make Hot Coffee part of that conversation, and together let’s take our rights back. The 2012 elections are littered with pro-tort reform candidates (like Pat McCrory in North Carolina, who are catering to business and insurance interests and care little about the rights of disabled and injured people), ballot measures, and highly-financed judicial elections. Let your representatives on the state and national level know that we are aware of these issues. That we will not stand for threats to our civil justice system in the guise of caps on damages, medical malpractice restrictions, hidden mandatory arbitration rules, or any laws that restrict our access to the courts be it in Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Alabama, Minnesota or all across the U.S. The Civil Justice system is your right; don’t let anyone take it away from you.

You can sign up here to host a “HOT COFFEE” the Movie Pay it Forward DVD House Party. If you host a party, we’d love to help you spread the word about it. Email [email protected] with details about your “Hot Coffee” house party. 

Please feel free to share photos and details of your event on the Deuterman Law Facebook page.

Hear More About How Carolinas Poultry Workers are Mistreated

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Reporter Kerry Hall and Editor Rick Thames of The Charlotte Observer were on the NPR show, The State of Things Last week discussing the newspaper’s 22-month investigation into the poultry processing industry in North Carolina and South Carolina.

The archive of the show is available online. You can hear about how they conducted their investigation and the lax workplace safety measures at House of Raeford Farms plants throughout the Carolinas.

You can read the full series, The Creulest Cuts, online at the Observer Web site.

Newspaper series reveals House of Raeford hid worker injuries, refused medical treatment

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A nearly two-year investigation by The Charlotte Observer revealed that one of the country’s biggest poultry producers, House of Raeford Farms, covered up injuries and dimissed workers’ request for medical care, clearing in violation of workers’ compensation laws.

Reporters spent 22 months investigating the poultry industry in North Carolina and South Carolina, interviewing more than 200 workers and reviewing thousands of documents.  They found that between 80 percent  to 90 percent of the workforce at some plants is Latino and that is by  design. As one plant employment superviser told a reporter, she was encouraged to hire Latinos because they are likely to complain and report their injuries.

House of Raeford is clearly violating the spirit of the state’s workers’ compensation laws.

"The company has compiled misleading injury reports and has defied regulators as it satisfies a growing appetite for America’s most popular meat. And employees say the company has ignored, intimidated or fired workers who were hurt on the job. "

Among the findings of the Charlotte Observer series, called the Cruelest Cuts:

• House of Raeford’s 800-worker plant in West Columbia, S.C., reported no musculoskeletal disorders over four years. Experts say that’s inconceivable. MSDs, including carpal tunnel syndrome, are the most common work-related injuries afflicting poultry workers.

• Its Greenville, S.C., plant has boasted of a five-year safety streak with no lost-time accidents. But the plant kept that streak alive by bringing injured employees back to the factory hours after surgery.

• The company has broken the law by failing to record injuries on government safety logs, a top OSHA official says.

• At four of the company’s largest Carolinas plants, company first-aid attendants and supervisors have dismissed some workers’ requests to see a doctor — even when they complained of debilitating pain.

 Our journalists found evidence that House of Raeford has failed to report serious injuries, including broken bones and carpal tunnel syndrome. They discovered that plant officials often dismissed workers’ requests for medical care that would cost the company money.

22 months, interviewed more than 200 poultry workers, many of them Latinos.



Wal-Mart — The High Cost of Low Price

Tom Domer of WILG Workers First Watch has some interesting thoughts about how Wal-Mart is degrading workers’ rights and hurting communities around the world. Here’s what he had to say in a recent essay about the documentary “Wal-Mart — The High Cost of Low Price,” which deals with the company’s practices: