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Workers Compensation for Illegal Immigrants

A picture of a work visa application.

Injured workers who do not have legal status often mistakenly assume that they are not covered by North Carolina’s workers’ compensation law. In many instances, however, undocumented workers who are injured on the job In North Carolina are entitled to the same medical and wage replacement benefits as any other injured worker.

If you have been injured while performing your job and have questions about your rights to workers’ compensation, let us try to answer your questions during a free consultation. Contact  a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney at Hardison & Cochran. Anything that you tell us about your immigration status during the consultation will remain confidential. You have legal rights regardless of whether you are a non-legal resident worker or have a green card. Factors other than your legal status will determine if you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits such as paid medical care and replacement of lost income.

If you or someone you love is a non-legal resident worker and has sustained a job-related injury or illness, contact the experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at Hardison & Cochran. Our attorneys are strong advocates for injured workers including undocumented workers in Raleigh, Durham, Wilmington and throughout Eastern North Carolina. We have successfully helped numerous workers obtain workers’ compensation benefits, even after they were initially denied. Call us toll free at (800) 434-8399 or fill out our online contact form.

North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Law and Non-Citizens

North Carolina law requires that all businesses that employ three or more employees must carry workers’ compensation insurance to pay for medical treatment for workers who are injured on the job or develop a work-related illness. Agricultural operations and sawmills that employ 10 or more workers are required to have workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation insurance is paid by the employer.

When an employee is injured on the job, workers’ compensation pays compensation for injuries and medical care. All injured employees are entitled to reasonable and necessary medical treatment. The workers’ compensation insurance covers all employees including temporary, part-time and seasonal workers, underage workers, undocumented workers and illegally hired workers, according to the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Families of workers who are killed on the job also may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation settlements.

North Carolina has an estimated 350,000 unauthorized workers. Undocumented workers represent about 5 percent of North Carolina’s workforce, according to the American Immigration Council. Non-resident workers perform many difficult and dangerous jobs such as construction work, farming, commercial fishing, industrial production, food processing and roofing. As an undocumented worker, you may have a right to workers’ compensation benefits even if you do not have the proper papers and are not authorized to work in the United States.

N.C. Courts Rule Non-Legal Resident Workers Entitled to Workers’ Compensation

The question of whether undocumented workers are entitled to workers’ comp benefits differs from state to state. The issue has been addressed by the North Carolina courts. In a 1999 case, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that a worker from Honduras who was injured while working for a construction company was covered by workers’ compensation benefits, although the worker did not have a green card or a Social Security number.

The North Carollina courts have ruled that illegal aliens are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits and should be treated the same as U.S. citizens in determining their eligibility for benefits.

Any injury that was caused by a workplace accident or that developed gradually in the course of performing your job such as a repetitive motion injury typically qualifies as a worker’s compensation claim. You should be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who caused the accident.  Non-legal resident workers also may qualify for benefits for occupation-related diseases.

The benefits available through workers’ compensation if you have sustained an injury on the job include:

  • medical treatment paid by your employer
  • temporary disability benefits during the time that you miss work because of the injury
  • compensation if your injuries cause a permanent disability.

Under North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system, injured employees receive weekly checks, beginning in the second week that an employee is injured and out of work. The workers’ comp benefits should continue until you have recovered as much as possible and reached what doctors refer to as maximum medical improvement.

What Rights Do Non-Legal Resident Workers Have After an Injury?

Most workers who are employees in North Carolina, regardless of immigration status, have a right to necessary medical care after a workplace injury and workers’ compensation benefits.

A worker has a right to report a workplace injury without fear of retaliation.

A worker who is denied workers’ compensation benefits has a legal right to talk with an attorney during a free consultation.

A injured worker has a right to file an appeal if an employer’s had disputed or denied workers’ compensation benefits.

Can A Non-Resident Worker Appeal a Denied Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Injured workers including undocumented workers have a legal right under federal workplace safety law to report an on-the-job injury and illnesses without fear of retribution or retaliation by an employer. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers or withhold benefits because of the worker’s immigration status.

Some unethical employers may try to use your immigration status as an undocumented worker to deny workers’ compensation benefits. The company may take the position that since you are not authorized to work in North Carolina, you are not a legal employee and are not entitled to benefits.

North Carolina courts have rejected that position and ruled that non-resident workers and illegal aliens are still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Non-legal resident workers should be treated just the same as U.S. citizens when they submit a workers’ compensation claim.

However, obtaining workers’ comp benefits can be complicated if an employer disputes your claim, particularly if you are not fluent in English.  Many injured employees who are covered by workers’ compensation receive letters from the employer’s insurance administrator denying their claims.

There are many reasons why claims are turned down unrelated to a worker’s immigration status. An employer may claim that the injured worker is an independent contractor rather than an employee to try to avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits. But some independent contractors such as construction workers whose work schedules and work are set by the employer meet the legal definition of an employee, as specified by NC workers’ compensation rules. They still qualify for workers’ compensation.

If you have received a denial letter, you should not give up or lose hope. First, you should talk with a knowledgeable and caring workers’ compensation attorney at Hardison & Cochran. One of our attorneys will review the reasons why your workers’ comp claim was denied and discuss whether we can assist you.  Being represented by a skilled lawyer who understands workers’ compensation law can increase your chances of filing a successful appeal and obtaining benefits.

Attorneys Who Know N.C. Workers’ Compensation Law

An employer or insurance company will have lawyers defending its interests in any hearing about workers’ compensation benefits. You should have knowledgeable legal representation as well.

Hardison & Cochran has two attorneys who are board-certified specialists in North Carolina workers’ compensation law. Only a small percentage of North Carolina lawyers are recognized by the North Carolina State Bar as specialists in workers’ compensation. Our experienced lawyers have an in-depth knowledge of North Carolina workers’ compensation law and can explain how your immigration status affects your right to seek benefits.

At Hardison & Cochran, we focus on helping injured workers including undocumented workers seek the full benefits they are entitled to by law. We can stand beside you throughout the process of seeking workers’ compensation benefits or filing an appeal of a denied claim. We serve clients in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Wilmington and throughout North Carolina. Call or contact our office online today to see how we can help you.

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