An Undocumented Worker’s Guide to California Workers’ Comp Rights

There are millions of undocumented workers in the United States. When an undocumented worker is hurt while on the job, he or she is – in many states – entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This is true although the injured worker was not legally allowed to work in the United States in the first place. This is a difficult concept for many employees (and employers) to understand.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), almost one-quarter of the nation’s undocumented immigrants reside in the State of California. In fact, undocumented immigrants make up six percent of California’s population.

Moreover, 1 out of every 10 workers in California is undocumented. A disproportionate number of these undocumented workers have positions in especially dangerous fields, including construction work and agricultural farm work. The hazardous nature of this kind of work coupled with often-inadequate safety enforcement can lead to severe accidents on the job

When undocumented workers are injured, they often believe that – because they are undocumented – they don’t qualify for workers’ compensation or that filing for this financial help will get them deported. California, however, recognizes not only the reality of undocumented workers but also the important role that they play in the state’s economy.

This is why the State of California has taken serious actions to help provide undocumented workers with legal protections in spite of the federal restrictions in place. If you are an undocumented worker, who’s been hurt on the job, consult with an experienced California workers’ compensation attorney today.

 

Undocumented Workers: You Are Included in California’s Workers’ Comp Statutes

When an employee is injured on the job, California assumes the responsibility of allowing the employee to recover on any damages he or she sustained. After all, that working person was helping to provide the rest of us with goods and services. Because the 10 percent of California workers who are undocumented are just as likely to get injured on the job as anyone else is, the California appeals court ruled that injured undocumented workers are just as entitled to workers’ compensation as other employees are.   

Not every state is as enlightened as California, but many other states include some rights for undocumented workers in their workers’ compensation statutes. In California, regardless of whether you obtained your job through the proper legal channels, you are protected by workers’ compensation. The effect this policy has is that it not only encourages employers to follow the rules and hire employees who are legally employable but also – and more importantly – it discourages employers from taking advantage of undocumented workers. Without such laws, it is easier for employers to discriminate against, take advantage of, and /or abuse undocumented employees.

If you are an undocumented California worker who has been injured on the job, know your rights. You don’t have to hide in the shadows out of fear. Consult with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation lawyer about your best options.

 

Fear and Federal Law

The passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) is the culprit behind much of the fear and trepidation undocumented workers have regarding filing for workers’ compensation. This law was created for the stated purpose of preserving jobs for those “legally entitled to them.” With this law, it became illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers knowingly or to recruit workers who are known to be undocumented.

Those employers who are found to make hiring undocumented workers a practice or a pattern can be fined and hit with other legal sanctions. In other words, the federal government means business. The motivation behind IRCA is deterrence:

  • When employers receive penalties for hiring undocumented workers, they’re presumed to be less likely to continue hiring such workers.
  • As fewer openings for undocumented workers become available, undocumented people will be less likely to immigrate to the U.S. in search of employment, to begin with.

In reality, however, the federal government’s plan has had little effect on the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Instead, the Fed’s attention on the matter has only made things harder for undocumented workers by highlighting the predicament and inadvertently encouraging employers to take further advantage of this already disadvantaged group. For instance, many employers ran with the chance to pay undocumented workers even less than they were already being paid – due to these employees’ exemption from minimum wage protections.

 

California Takes Workers’ Rights Seriously

The State of California understood only too well how the passage of IRCA would make it easier for unscrupulous employers to justify using discriminatory practices against undocumented workers.

As a result, the state has passed laws to protect undocumented workers from loopholes in federal law. California, in 2002, passed a law that mandates all the same employee protections be afforded every worker, including undocumented workers. 

These protections guarantee wage minimums, overtime pay, anti-discrimination rights, disability payments, back wages, and workers’ compensation coverage.

California not only passed this 2002 law but also continues to consistently and liberally apply the law regarding undocumented employees.  As long as the employer who employs you is not aware that you are undocumented, you are entitled to all of the protections that any other employee is entitled to.

If, on the other hand, your employer is aware of your legal status and hires you anyway, the employment relationship is considered illegal from the outset, and obtaining compensation is likely to be more complicated. Seek the experienced legal services of a dedicated workers’ compensation lawyer today.  

 

Undocumented Workers Play an Important Role in California’s Economy

As noted, undocumented workers play a critical role in California’s bustling economy. These workers make up, according to the PPIC, 10 percent of the state’s labor force. These workers are obviously crucial to California’s thriving economy, and as such, the state affords them full rights under the law.    

 

Every Worker Is Entitled to Protections

The California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) guarantees all workers – including those without documentation – certain rights:

  • California’s state laws protect the wages and working conditions of documented and undocumented workers alike.
  • Beginning January 1, 2016, undocumented workers should receive a minimum wage of $10.00 per hour.
  • Just like every other worker, undocumented workers are entitled to overtime wages when they work more than 8 hours in a day and/or more than 40 hours in a week.
  • Undocumented workers are entitled to file complaints regarding workplace safety and health standards with CAL/OSHA.
  • When an undocumented worker has a state wage-violation claim, the worker is entitled to file the claim against his or her employer with the state labor commissioner.

All told, if you are an undocumented worker in the State of California, your employer owes you a safe environment to work in – without any retaliation on his or her part regarding your legal status. If you’re undocumented, and your employer fails to provide you with the basic rights outlined by DIR, you need the professional legal counsel of a skilled California workers’ comp attorney.

 

Benefit Claims and the Fear of Deportation

Even undocumented workers with strong workers’ compensation claims fear that moving forward with a claim will mark them as undocumented – and that they’ll be at a much greater risk of being deported. To provide undocumented farm workers who are injured on the job some protection (limited though it is) from the risk of deportation, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has an across the board policy never to question the immigration status of applicants for workers’ compensation.

While recent immigration developments have increased the scrutiny that undocumented workers’ face, the State of California has doubled down on protecting all employees’ workers’ compensation applications:

  • Official policy is that no one’s immigration status is ever questioned.
  • In 2017, California took a stance against ICE agents entering an investigation without a warrant and requested that ICE agents step down when it comes to making arrests around California courthouses.
  • California legislators have introduced a bill that would prohibit ICE agents from entering state-owned, leased, or occupied building or public school to conduct surveillance, make arrests, or question people without the necessary warrants.

The State of California does what it can to protect all of its employees. If you are an undocumented worker with a workers’ compensation claim, work closely with an experienced California workers’ compensation lawyer to help protect your rights as an employee and to help ensure that your claim doesn’t bring undue attention to your legal status.

 

If You’re Undocumented and Have Been Injured on the Job, Consult with a knowledgeable California Workers’ Comp Attorney Today

If you’re an undocumented worker who has been injured at work, you have plenty of reasons to be leery of moving forward with a workers’ compensation claim, but working closely with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer will help ensure that your claim does not cause you to be retaliated against. The dedicated workers’ comp attorneys at Arash Law in California have the experience, skill, and compassion to help you. We’re available 24/7, so please don’t hesitate to call our office at (888) 488-1391 today.  

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DISCLAIMER: Information provided on this blog is not formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this page be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always obtain a free and confidential case evaluation from a reputable attorney near you if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.

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