Are undocumented workers entitled to the same benefits as any other NC injured worker? Have you been hurt at work and want to know your rights? Has your employer told you that due to your status you cannot file for workers’ compensation benefits? This post attempts to answer questions regarding undocumented workers and NC Workers’ Compensation.
As of 2016, in NC, the undocumented population was 321,000 according to research done by the Migration Policy Institute. Many undocumented workers are employed in construction and manufacturing, which are some of the state’s most dangerous jobs.
Undocumented Workers Are Entitled to NC Workers’ Compensation Benefits
The important fact to remember is that in NC, even undocumented workers are entitled to the same workers’ compensation benefits as any other worker. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-2(2) defines the meaning of “employee” as: “…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…” Whether you are documented or not, whether you are lawfully employed or not, if you have a compensable injury, then you are entitled to benefits under workers’ compensation in NC.
Unethical employers may try to scare you into not filing a claim or reporting an injury. They may threaten to deny your claim if you do file, because you are not authorized to work in the state. Under the statute and under case law, that is not true. Undocumented aliens have the same right to necessary medical care, the same rights to report an injury without fear of retaliation, the same right to request a hearing when your claim is denied, and the same right to weekly check benefits when appropriate.
Having a workers’ compensation claim as an undocumented alien in NC, does afford you the same rights as everyone else, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. The first and foremost is that without medical treatment there is no claim. Regardless of your immigration status, if you are injured at work, you should seek medical treatment. Medical treatment is the basis for your claim and usually the clearest way to show you are entitled to benefits. It is important to understand that medical treatment can be provided even to those who have moved outside the state for a reasonable purpose, and even outside the country. Deportation has been considered a reasonable purpose under relevant case law.
Many undocumented workers are employed in agricultural work and may work with different employers depending on the season. Seasonal workers, independent of their status, are treated differently than other hourly or salary employees and this has a large impact on what weekly check benefits you may be entitled to receive.
On a more somber note, when discussing death benefits there is another concern that can arise and that is common law marriage. And while common law marriage is not specific to immigrants, in NC, a deceased worker’s benefits may be paid to the surviving spouse, but only when the spouse has been legally married to the deceased worker at the time of the injury. No benefits are permitted to be paid to common law spouses under the laws and case law in NC.
Understanding NC workers’ compensation is complex, but with the help of a NC Workers’ Compensation attorney, you can better understand how your unique situation affects your claim. The Bishop Law Firm represents injured workers and their families in Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Fayetteville, Rocky Mount, RoanokeRapids, Smithfield, Louisburg, Chapel Hill, Wilson, North Carolina and surrounding areas. Call us today for a free case evaluation, (919) 615-3095.