California Workers’ Compensation Benefits are available to Undocumented Employees

All California workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits regardless of their legal status.  California law provides that such protections, rights, and remedies under state law are available to all individuals who work in this state, regardless of immigration status.  The California Labor Code explicitly includes undocumented immigrants in the group of workers eligible to receive benefits when injured on the job.  (Labor Code §3351.)

If an Employee is injured on the job, or has an illness, disease, or disability caused or worsened by workplace conditions, the Employee can receive benefits through workers’ compensation.  In California, all employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.

Workers’ compensation benefits are not available to independent contractors, only employees. This does not mean that if you are an undocumented worker and your employer simply tells you are independent contractor you are automatically ineligible for workers compensation benefits.  Too often employers incorrectly misclassify workers as “independent contractors” to avoid providing benefits like workers’ compensation.  If an employer has the right to control the manner and means in which the employee performs work, the worker may be an employee, even if labeled an “independent contractor.”  There are a number of other factors that determine whether you are an independent contractor, which are discussed here on the California Labor Commissioner, Department of Industrial Relation’s website.

In order to be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits, an employee must report the injury to the employer within 30 days of the injury.  In this current political climate, undocumented immigrants have a growing fear of bringing complaints against their employer—workers’ compensation is no exception.  But employees should know that if they are injured on the job, they have a right to submit a workers’ compensation claim in order to receive benefits should they choose to do so.  Retaliation against an employee for reporting an injury is prohibited by law, regardless of a worker’s immigration status.

The employer must provide the Employee with the workers’ compensation claim form (DWC-1) within one working day of learning about the injury.  An employee reporting injury should share the date of injury, the parts of the body injured, and how and where the injury occurred.  An employer is not required to provide any benefits until this notification occurs.

California’s decision to protect all employees who suffer an injury at work, regardless of immigration status, prevents unscrupulous employers from lowering the playing field for all workers and pitting employees against each other, only to benefit the employer’s profits.  Employers gain a wide range of protections through the workers’ compensation system, and in return, regardless of legal status, a worker employed in California has a right to workers’ compensation benefits.

Please contact your labor law, workers’ compensation or immigration counsel with further questions about workers’ compensation, or whether it is advisable in your situation to report your injury and claim benefits.

By Tiffany Crain Altamirano | September 5, 2017

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