Are undocumented immigrants eligible for workers’ comp?

Currently there are over 1.8 million undocumented workers in California. They make up 9 percent of the state’s total workforce. Many of them work in food service, in manufacturing, do construction or work on farms. These jobs all have inherent dangers, and many undocumented workers are uninsured.

In theory, immigrants without a working visa not supposed to seek employment at all. But this is far from our current reality. Many injured undocumented workers are fearful to file for workers’ compensation because they feel they may risk deportation. So, if an undocumented immigrant becomes injured at work, who’s on the hook?

Immigration status and the law

The California Labor Code specifically states that undocumented workers have “all protections, rights, and remedies available under state law.”

Furthermore, the law states that it is illegal to discriminate against undocumented immigrants in labor laws, employment, civil rights, consumer protection and housing laws. It is even illegal to ask about a person’s immigration status in these matters.

Filing for workers’ compensation

In California, all workers injured on the job are eligible for workers’ compensation. Immigration status is not a factor. Workers’ comp will cover medical expenses arising from the injury and, in some case, lost wages. It may also provide state disability benefits if you are unable to return to the workforce.

It may be difficult for an undocumented immigrant to return to the same job after filing for workers’ compensation if it reveals their previously concealed immigration status. Though it is illegal, some employers might even retaliate against an undocumented worker for filing for workers’ comp by alerting immigration agents about their status.

Protect yourself

California is home to many nonprofits designed to protected undocumented workers against employer abuse. Before filing a workers’ compensation claim it is a good idea to first speak to a free resource like Legal Aid at Work. Seeking an attorney who has experience with workers’ compensation benefits is also a smart move. Regardless of immigration status, no worker should face employer abuse.

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