Immigration and California Workers' Compensation Benefits: A Guide for Undocumented Workers
Too often employees received wrong information and bad advice regarding the availability of workers' compensation benefits for workers injured on-the-job in California who cannot prove legal residency status or are using an invalid Social Security number.
The California Workers' Compensation Act protects all employees injured on-the-job in California.The California Workers' Compensation Act protects all employees injured on-the-job in the state of California and provides benefits including monetary benefits such as temporary total disability and permanent disability benefits as well as payment of medical treatment expenses: immigration status of the employee at the time of the injury is simply irrelevant. A worker who is in the United States illegally but is injured in California should not be intimated by the employer or its insurance administrator into not pursuing or proceeding with a claim for benefits. California has special laws in place that provide that all workers, regardless of immigration status, are protected by California labor laws including workers'compensation laws. Moreover, the California Division of Workers' Compensaton does not share information nor "turn over" data regarding employees who cannot provide proof of United States residency to th federal immigration authorities such as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). If California law were any other way, unscrupulous employers, especially in the construction and farm industries, would have an incentive to hire undocumented workers and then claim "gotcha- you're not here legally" to avoid providing benefits including medical treatment expenses for employees injured on-the-job. The cost of such treatment would then befall on the taxpapers through treatment at county and other public hospitals. Employers who employ illegal workers would then have an unfair competitve advantage over employers who employ legal workers as the employer with legal workers would have higher workers' compensation costs than the employer who hires illegal workers as a general business practice.
While a Social Security Number must be used in the filing of a workers' compensation claim do not use an invalid numberOftentimes an undocumented worker will have worked in Calfornia for several years before being injured on-the-job. During those years, the undocumented worker might have used the same invalid Social Security Number. To avoid putting knowingly false information on a court form, the undocumented worker should inform his attorney who can then request that a dummy Social Security Number be assigned to the claim. The clerk will then assign a dummy number such as all 9s or all 0s.
Let your attorney know if you are here illegally.In preparing my clients for sworn statement called a deposition, I make sure that my client tells me if he or she is here illegally. Oftentimes the employee will tell me that before she was hired, she would pay a plant manager cash and the plant manager would provide the employee with a false Social Security number.As such, the employer knows that undocumented workers are being hired and shoud not cry "foul" when a worker files a workers' compensation claim after being injured at work. Unfortunately, for many employers, it is a standard businss practice to hire illegal residents apparently because illegal residents are less likely to assert basic labor law rights regarding overtime pay, working conditions, payroll deductions, and even requesting medical treatment when injured on-the-job. Once I know that my client is an undocumented worker, I prepare the witness not to testify that he or she is here illegally or is using an invalid Social Security number. Rather, I assert a Fifth Amendment objection to any questions regarding immigration status and what Social Security number she is utilizing and how she obtained that number. All the defendant carrier is entitled to find out is whether the claimant was working for the employer at the time of injury and whether the employer was located in California at the time of injury. Under no circumstances should an injured worker provide false testimony while under oath.
California law provides more protection to undocumented workers than does federal law.The issue of whether illegal immigrants can obtain workers' compensation benefits has been fought over in courts and legislatures. Immigration issues domiant headlines and sees to be a core issue in the upcoming presidential race. In response to an unfavorable US Supreme Court case in 2002, the California legislature passed a law that provides that all worker protection rights and remedies available under California law are available to all workers in California, regardless of immigration status. That special law is now found in California Labor Code Sectioin 1171.5.