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Can Undocumented Immigrants Get Workers’ Compensation?

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An undocumented worker is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of their legal immigration status. 

Federal, state, and local agencies are not allowed to deny rights, benefits, or privileges based on a person’s unwillingness to disclose their social security number [1]. This has been used as the precedent to ensure a worker’s undocumented status does not limit their access to the same benefits other workers have access to. 

Read on to learn more about workers’ compensation for undocumented immigrants, the types of benefits available through workers’ comp, differences in state laws, and information about deportation for filing a workers’ comp claim. 

Workers’ Compensation for Undocumented Immigrants

There are more than 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. Labor Force [2]. There are companies who actively try to deny benefits to those workers in an effort to reduce costs and maintain high profit margins. Unfortunately, this means many undocumented workers are intimidated, threatened, and coerced into dangerous situations that also violate their rights. 

For example, it is not uncommon for an agriculture enterprise, (i.e. major farming corporation) to push farms to hire undocumented immigrants to increase their labor force. 

Then, when they push for better working conditions, try to file workers’ compensation claims after a workplace accident, or unionize, those major corporations threaten to report undocumented employees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

There is a high chance they will be deported if this happens, so many workers stay silent and are taken advantage of. 

Under federal law, many of the workplace safety, right to unionize, and employee benefit laws also apply to undocumented employees. This is because the laws are either written to apply to everyone despite their immigration status, or there are laws specifically written to extend protections to those same undocumented employees. 

The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), for example, outlines and protects specific immigrant employee rights, such as the right to unionize, discuss conditions, and take action without retaliation [3]. 

Unfortunately, some companies try to circumvent the requirements through several illegal methods. Many of these employees are intimidated into staying silent although they are eligible for workers comp, which is why there is a strong need for protections for undocumented workers.  

Does Workers’ Comp Cover Undocumented Immigrants?

Workers’ comp covers all employees who meet the minimum criteria, regardless of immigration status. This makes undocumented immigrants eligible for benefits if they are employed by a company working in the United States. 

Workers’ compensation laws are written to not exclude anyone based on their citizenship status. As long as they meet the basic requirements for filing a workers’ comp claim, they cannot be denied solely on the fact that they are undocumented. 

Workers’ Compensation Benefits Available to Undocumented Immigrants

The law makes undocumented workers entitled to the same benefits for workers’ compensation as everyone else. You can receive benefits, including: 

Medical Benefits

Workers’ compensation has medical benefits to cover your medical expenses and any medical treatment you may need as a result of your injury. 

Lost Wages

The total amount of lost wages you will be able to receive through workers’ comp will depend on the nature of your injuries and whether or not you’re expected to recover, as well as whether you are able to work in some capacity. The different levels of workers’ comp benefits are: 

  • Temporary Total Disability (TTD): TTD benefits apply when you sustain a temporary and completely incapacitating work-related injury. While you’re expected to make a full recovery, you are unable to work or perform tasks while you recover. TTD covers lost wages during the recovery period. 
  • Temporary Partial Disability (TPD): TPD is for temporary injuries that impact some of your working abilities, though you’re still able to work in some capacity. 
  • Permanent Total Disability (PTD): With a PTD, the work-related injury is not recoverable and will continue to hinder your ability to work in the future. This type of injury is not recoverable. 
  • Partial Permanent Disability (PPD): With PPD, you have a work-related injury you will not be able to recover from and that will impact you for the rest of your life. Unlike a PTD, where you won’t be able to work at all, you can work in some capacity with a PPD.

Vocational Rehabilitation

Vocational rehabilitation can be an important workers’ comp benefit, as it helps injured workers return to work even if they are unable to work in the same capacity. 

For instance, if your injuries make it impossible to lift 30 pounds or walk, you can learn new skills to work in a less physically demanding capacity through vocational rehabilitation. This way, you can still work and earn a living, despite any limitations caused by your injuries.

Permanent Injury Benefits

Just like other employees, undocumented workers can receive benefits for permanent injuries that leave them unable to work as a result of a workplace accident or injury. 

Determining how much compensation undocumented employees receive can be more complicated, as the judge may take into account how long the worker would have been able to work in the future. Their undocumented status can have an impact on how much compensation they may receive. 

Workers’ Compensation and Undocumented Workers by State

How workers’ compensation benefits can be impacted by legal immigration status varies by state. Depending on the state where you live and work, the laws that govern benefits for workers can include undocumented immigrants. 

For example, under California law, the workers’ compensation statutes explicitly state undocumented immigrants are eligible for the same benefits other workers are entitled to [4]. 

Under New York workers’ compensation laws, undocumented immigrants are allowed to receive workers’ comp benefits. In Illinois, they are not excluded from workers’ comp benefits and can receive the workers’ comp they are owed. 

Can You Be Deported for Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Some employers may threaten injured workers with deportation if they make a workers’ comp claim. Out of fear, many undocumented workers may not receive the compensation they are entitled to. 

For this reason, it is important undocumented immigrants reach out to workers’ compensation lawyers to ensure their rights are protected and that filing for benefits does not cause undue hardship.

Do Not Provide a Fake Social Security Number

It is important to note that undocumented immigrants eligible for workers’ comp benefits should not make up a social security number during the claims process, especially on paperwork for the insurance company. 

Providing false information to an insurance company is grounds to deny the claim. A workers’ compensation lawyer can give you advice on how to properly fill out the paperwork. 

If an immigrant worker provides a fake social security number during the hiring process, this does not necessarily change their ability to receive workers’ compensation for a workplace injury. However, having a lawyer review the paperwork and the situation can be beneficial.

Providing false information on hiring documents can lead to more legal issues for undocumented workers, so it is best to avoid anything that could be seen as fraud or other legal problems during the hiring process. 

Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you or a loved one is an undocumented worker who has been injured in a workplace accident, you could be entitled to workers’ comp benefits to cover medical expenses and other expenses. Contact an employment law attorney at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers by filling out our contact form or calling toll-free at (888) 424-5757.

Our legal team works on a contingency fee basis for filing civil litigation related to workers’ compensation benefits. You do not need to pay anything upfront or out of pocket for our services. Instead, we deduct a small percentage of the final settlement that we help you secure as payment for our services. That way, you don’t pay anything unless you receive compensation at the end of the case. 

Resources: [1] Social Security Administration; [2] Migration Policy Institute; [3] NLRB; [4] Independent Insurance Agents of America

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