Injured workers report worker injuries less

President Donald Trump’s threat to deport undocumented people is preventing workers who are undocumented from seeking workers’ compensation benefits when they are injured on the job. This is according to workers in the immigration bellwether state of California, a Bloomberg News article states. Nearly 10 percent of the labor force in California is undocumented, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. California is also home to the highest number of undocumented immigrants in the country.

 

The Bloomberg article gives the example of one undocumented worker from Mexico who developed carpal tunnel syndrome last year while working as a dishwasher. He filed for workers’ compensation and soon found another job at a different restaurant. However, his employer fired him when he missed work to attend a workers’ compensation hearing. This is a violation of California law, but the worker isn’t reporting this horrible violation because he’s afraid he’ll be deported. He told Bloomberg that he is constantly worried about being arrested at work.

 

Tougher Anti-Immigration Stance

 

Another undocumented worker in Santa Rosa, California, said she became injured on the job at a vine field and required surgery, but is afraid to show up to her hearing or even get medical care because of the Trump administration’s tough stance. These workers are not alone. Injuries and preventable accidents are common in risky and exhausting jobs, which disproportionately employ undocumented immigrants. A recent study stated that foreign-born workers make up just 15 percent of the labor force, but account for 18 percent of all workplace fatalities. These concerns continue to grow with the Trump administration’s tough stance against immigrants.

 

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinforced that ICE officers will continue to make arrests in public places. Also, Sessions this month spoke out firmly in support of tougher criminal immigration enforcement. He also issued a memo to all U.S. attorneys directing them to make immigration prosecutions a high priority. This is at a time when illegal crossing have dropped by up to 72 percent.

 

Fears Among Immigrant Workers

 

Our Southern California workers’ compensation attorneys are already seeing the impact of Trump’s anti-immigration orders. We are seeing fewer and fewer workers’ comp cases, particularly those involving immigrant and undocumented workers since Trump took office. Before Trump, workers used to be apprehensive because they didn’t want to report workplace violations to the Department of Labor or file workers’ compensation claims because they didn’t want to “rock the boat” or because they feared retaliation. However, after Trump has taken office, things have gotten much worse. Latino workers who were already reluctant to raise concerns about workplace safety and health are trying to stay under the radar by not being seen or heard.

 

Policies Have a Chilling Effect

 

When there is a widespread fear that immigration officials could conduct worksite raids, the resulting effect can be a chilling one. Undocumented workers are now much less likely to talk to inspectors about workplace safety problems or file a workers’ compensation claim if they are injured on the job. The power dynamic between employers and employees also shifts because the employer might feel more emboldened to call immigration officials when, for example, his workers file complaints against him or her. The problem here is that labor agencies such as the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are primarily complaint-driven.

 

If workers believe that local law enforcement will go after them for their immigration status, they will be far less likely to file workers’ compensation claims of workplace safety complaints. It’s already quite a challenging battle for labor law enforcers to convince workers they can report violations without fear of retaliation. However, as Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric gets louder and louder, it is going to be much more difficult for Department of Labor officials to continue to do that outreach in our communities and convincingly state that they exist to defend workers’ rights.

 

Data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of Latino workplace deaths spiked during the Obama presidency. More Latino workers died in 2015 than in any year since 2007. This increase in deaths has been attributed to Latino workers’ fear of deportations and other consequences of speaking up about unsafe working conditions.

 

Whenever there is an increase in the criminalization of undocumented workers, it does add more pressure on workers to remain in the job that they are in, to not complain and to look the other way when they encounter dangerous situations on the job. They simply don’t want to risk being deported and separated from their family members, which is completely understandable.

 

Knowing Your Rights

 

Under California law, undocumented immigrants are included in the workers’ compensation statutes. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide workers with benefits if they have been injured on the job. Workers’ compensation usually covers medical expenses and a portion of lost benefits. Accidents in the workplace where injuries may occur don’t just affect lawful workers. Undocumented immigrants make up about 10 percent of California’s workforce. These workers are more often likely to be injured on the job. The California State Appeals Court ruled that undocumented workers have full entitlement to workers’ compensation.

 

If you are an undocumented worker, it is important that you know and understand your rights. Don’t allow any immigration official or public officer into your home without a court warrant. If they don’t have proper authorization, ask for their names and write down their badge numbers. Obtain names and contact information for witnesses. Remain calm and don’t answer any questions unless your lawyer is present. After a raid, you have the right to make a phone call, to speak to a lawyer, the right to day nothing unless your lawyer is present, and the right to a hearing before an immigration judge.

 

If you have been injured on the job, report the incident to your supervisor and employer right away. Get prompt medical attention, car and treatment for your injuries. Save as much of the evidence as possible. Obtain contact information for anyone who may have witnessed the accident. Contact an experienced Los Angeles workers’ compensation lawyer who has had experience successfully representing the rights of undocumented workers.

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