Many people want to know if they can apply for workers’ compensation if they’re not a U.S. citizen or if they’re undocumented. The answer is, yes, they can.
Workers’ compensation was initiated to encourage employers to keep their working conditions safe – or pay the consequences. As such, the law does not allow for any discrimination based on work status.
Yet, we know from firsthand experience that some employers and insurance companies may try to convince non-U.S. workers to settle for much less than they may be entitled to – or deny them benefits altogether. We’ve had some insurance adjusters tell our clients that they’re lucky to get any amount no matter how small it is, just because they are not U.S. citizens or because they are undocumented. That’s a lie. Some employers, too, have lied to our clients (and to us!) to try to avoid paying benefits.
Here’s a case that shows how low some employers will stoop to skirt their responsibility. (Sadly, we have seen circumstances similar to these more often than you might think.)
We took on a case of an injured worker who was undocumented and had sustained a catastrophic injury. Although the employer hired this undocumented worker, after the injury they denied any knowledge of him! And if that’s not contemptible enough, the workers’ compensation insurance company (not surprisingly) sided with the employer and rejected our client’s claim.
Left with severe disabling injuries, no job, and no income to pay for a place to live, the injured worker retained our firm for help. As if the blatant deceit on the part of the employer and insurance company were not enough, what underscored this situation for the entire team working on this case was that the insurance company was rudely unsympathetic toward our client’s precarious circumstances.
We do not tolerate this kind of abuse!
In spite of this lying, deceitful employer and rude insurance carrier, we turned a denied case for that undocumented worker, who had little education and little recourse outside of our representation, into a six-figure settlement.1 We obtained documentation that proved the employer had lied – lied about our client’s employment and lied about having anything to do with him, period!
What NC Law Says About Undocumented Workers
In North Carolina, workers’ compensation benefits basically can’t be denied to any person, regardless of their status as a non-citizen. The law states that:
“The term ’employee’ means every person engaged in an employment under any appointment or contract of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, oral or written, including aliens, and also minors, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed…”
The law assumes that the person who employed you has automatically agreed to pay compensation for a personal injury or death by accident that happens while you are doing your job, and that you will automatically accept this payment. It means that almost every employer with three or more employees has to offer worker’s compensation to all of their employees, and that includes undocumented workers too. No matter how the employment agreement was (or wasn’t) made, you may be covered for your injuries, even if nothing was in writing.
In the end, it typically doesn’t matter if you are undocumented, or if the work relationship was by verbal agreement, or if you had a contract in writing. Any employee who suffers an injury or an accident during their job may be entitled to workers’ compensation.
Yet, as you see from our story, some employers and insurance companies may try to take advantage of worker ignorance in order to deny them their rights, payments, and benefits. We know of situations where they even bully or threaten the worker. Our experience has shown that many non-U.S. workers, especially those who are not in the country legally, are afraid of repercussions and are willing to accept any settlement offered just to avoid making a claim. In the construction industry, for example, 75% of non-fatal injuries to Hispanic workers go unreported, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training.
Can You Receive Workers’ Comp If You Used a Fake Name or Social Security Number?
Yes. While you should not use a fake name or a fake social security number, you may be entitled to workers’ comp benefits even if you did use a fake name and Social Security number.
In the landmark case Gayton v. Gage Carolina Metals, Inc., Ruperto Gayton, an undocumented worker who had presented a false social security card and a false resident alien card when he was hired, injured his back while he was moving a pallet and herniated two discs. The court ruled that Mr. Gayton was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The employer and the insurance company accepted the claim and began paying for his temporary total disability. (The employer’s case was built around trying to get out of their responsibilities, not about whether the worker had presented fake documents.)
2016 U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms”
The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin received the highest ranking by 2016 U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” for Workers’ Compensation in the greater Raleigh area.3
NC Workers’ Comp Lawyers Will Evaluate Your Case FREE
Our workers’ comp staff at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, includes six North Carolina Board Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialists, two of whom were also a former Special Deputy Commissioner, and a former Deputy Commissioner from the North Carolina Industrial Commission, and others who used to work for workers’ compensation defense firms.
If you suffered a work-related accident, do not delay reporting your injuries or contacting us just because of your citizenship status, or even if you happen to be undocumented. We’re here to try to make sure that you get all the benefits that the law grants you. And we are here to try to stop companies from bullying or intimidating you.
3 Visit www.bestlawfirms.usnews.com for more information about criteria for inclusion.