Workers’ Compensation Quarterly, the official workers’ comp publication of the State Bar of California, published an article in its most recent issue by Boxer & Gerson Workers’ Comp Specialist Maria Sager entitled, “Undocumented Injured Workers: A Perspective.” The three-page article examined evolving case law and Sager’s own experience in representing undocumented workers who have been injured on the job but who may find it difficult or complicated to attempt to collect the workers’ comp benefits to which they are legally entitled in California. The fact that the state is home to approximately 2.6 million undocumented immigrants- of whom 1.8 million are employed-makes the issue not only a moral and ethical concern, but a practical economic concern as well.
Sager cites varying court decisions on the state and federal levels in advising attorneys there is no one-size-fits-all approach to take with clients who may have well-founded fears of facing dismissal from their jobs, criminal prosecution, and deportation if they file workers’ compensation claims. “It is important to let undocumented injured workers know that filing a workers’ compensation claim is a right, not an obligation,” she writes. “It is also important to spend time educating undocumented injured workers about the pros and cons of filing a workers’ compensation claim-receiving workers’ compensation benefits, on the one hand, and, on the other, possible employment termination and deportation.”
Later in the article, Sager emphasizes preparing carefully for undocumented clients’ depositions so that they do not feel compelled to answer questions about their immigration status (which is immaterial per California law), and the importance of informing them about state disability benefits that they may be eligible for in cases where they cannot return to work because of a mental or physical condition.