undocumented workers rights in nc

Undocumented Workers Rights: Workers’ Compensation in NC

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

North Carolina is home to about 350,000 undocumented immigrants. These immigrants are an important part of the state’s economy and workforce, performing some of the most dangerous and deadly jobs. A large percentage work in agriculture, construction and manufacturing – industries with significantly higher rates of workplace injuries or deaths.

What are undocumented workers rights? What happens when an undocumented worker is injured on the job? Are undocumented workers entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in North Carolina? Can an injured worker be deported for filing a workers’ comp claim?

These are questions we hear often from our clients and their family members. Many undocumented workers are rightfully fearful, especially given the current political climate and recent changes to immigration policies. There’s also a lot of misinformation circulating, perpetuated by employers, insurance companies and the workplace rumor mill. This often prevents many immigrants from reporting their on-the-job injuries, getting medical treatment and seeking their lawful workers’ compensation benefits.

Undocumented workers are entitled to the same legal protections as anyone else if they get hurt on the job. So yes, you can get workers’ compensation benefits and medical treatment, even if you are undocumented.

Still, we understand our immigrant and Spanish-speaking clients may have many worries and questions about workers’ compensation:

  • If I report a work injury, can I be deported or will they go after any undocumented family members?
  • Do I have to reveal my immigration status to the judge or others involved in my case?
  • Can I trust my employer, the insurance company or the legal system to do what is right?
  • Who can I trust? How do I know the police officers, judges and other officials I’m dealing with aren’t corrupt?
  • How am I going to get the right medical care when I don’t even speak the same language as my doctor?
  • Will I ever be able to go back to work again?

Let me make my earlier point very clear. 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 and has been upheld by the courts.

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 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.

There are legal protections in place regarding deportation.

Here at the Deuterman Law Group, we take very seriously our role as your legal advocate and the ally. When it comes to justice for clients, money isn’t our only goal. We’re also concerned with our clients’ health and overall wellbeing, and protecting all their legal rights.

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.

When working with our undocumented clients, we do everything within our legal power to make sure the employer doesn’t retaliate by reporting them to immigration officials. We don’t tolerate bullying or threats of deportation from employers who are trying to get out of paying a legitimate workers’ comp claim.

Even so, 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. We can even help you get an interpreter for your medical appointments.

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. It is often a lengthy legal battle. 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.

This article has been updated in August 2018.

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