If I am injured on the job, does my immigration status matter?

Undocumented immigrants tend to work in dangerous and demanding jobs. Because of their immigration status, many work in fields like construction, manufacturing, farming, or the service industry. All of these types of jobs are physically demanding and carry an increased risk of on-the-job injuries.

When an undocumented worker is injured on the job, is that person eligible for workers’ compensation benefits? If so, what are the risks involved in applying for benefits?

Workers’ Compensation Benefits Are Available Regardless of Status

According to estimates, there are nearly 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and over 8 million are employed, making up 5% of the nation’s workforce. Like any citizen, when an undocumented worker is hurt, he or she deserves to take full advantage of the workers’ compensation system put in place for that purpose.

Under Delaware law, an employee who is temporarily or permanently disabled due to an on-the-job injury is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits are monthly payments made directly to the worker in order to make up for lost income due to the injury.

For many years, it was unclear if undocumented workers were eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. However, in the past three years the state Supreme Court of Delaware has made it clear that undocumented employees are not excluded from the workers’ compensation system.

In the 2012 case of Ramirez v. Delaware Valley Field Services, the state Supreme Court held that an injured employee was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits even though he had been deported back to Honduras. More recently in 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that an employer was responsible for paying partial disability benefits to an injured employee even though the employee was an undocumented alien.

In both of these cases, the Court’s reasoning was the same. First, nothing in the Delaware workers’ compensation law excludes undocumented workers from making a claim for benefits. Second, and most importantly, if employers do not have to pay workers’ compensation benefits to undocumented employees, the potential for abuse skyrockets. Without these benefits, there would be no incentive for employers to maintain a safe working environment. Instead, employers could flout safety rules, allow their employees to work in dangerous conditions, and then disavow all responsibility when those employees got hurt.

Accordingly, Delaware’s case law and workers’ compensation statute make it clear that an undocumented immigrant who is injured on the job is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, whether or not a worker should apply for workers’ compensation benefits may be a different issue.

Applying For Benefits Carries Some Risk

Employers often tell injured employees that they will be deported if they file for workers’ compensation benefits. As a result, many injured employees never apply for the benefits that they deserve.

What workers should know is that while filing a workers’ compensation claim is a risk, it is not guaranteed that the immigration authorities will become involved. Many undocumented workers’ claims are simply processed as usual. In addition, an employer that threatens deportation often has more to lose by reporting a worker’s undocumented status than the immigrant does, especially if the employer knew the employee was undocumented at the time he or she was hired.

Depending on the extent of the injury, it is often worth the risk to file for workers’ compensation benefits. If a worker is so badly injured or disabled that he or she will never work again, that worker will still receive monthly benefits regardless of the country where he or she resides. If an undocumented immigrant can no longer work, it is often better to receive monthly payments and risk deportation.

If an undocumented worker does decide to submit a claim for workers’ compensation, it is extremely important that the worker does not submit fake or borrowed identification papers or social security numbers. This is illegal, and could result in an arrest for fraud, a denial of benefits, and a possible deportation proceeding. It is better to work with an attorney experienced in both workers’ compensation and immigration issues for the best chance at a positive outcome.

At The Castro Firm, Inc. our attorneys fight for injured people and help them get the workers’ compensation benefits that they have earned. In addition, our firm also handles all types of immigration issues, making us uniquely skilled at understanding the plight of injured immigrants. Our team of compassionate and knowledgeable attorneys will make sure that you understand your options, and will help you make the best choice for you and your family.

For more information about immigration issues or workers’ compensation benefits, schedule a consultation about your rights and obligations today. You can contact The Castro Firm, Inc. online at www.thecastrofirm.com, or call our office at (302) 225-5700. If you have been injured at work, don’t wait to get help. Call today and learn more about your rights.