Ayers, Whitlow & Dressler

The Personal Injury, Worker’s Compensation and Social Security Disability Group of Sellers, Ayers, Dortch and Lyons.

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Could undocumented immigrants lose workers' compensation?

When an individual goes into work each day, particularly where manual labor is involved, it can be strenuous and grueling. It can at least be reassuring to know that after an injury workers' compensation may alleviate some of your concerns, especially monetarily.

If that support is taken away, it can be unsettling to think that no insurance exists to cover medical expenses, rehabilitation and lost wages. A workplace accident can be difficult to overcome when no help is available. 

Recently, a North Carolina Senate proposal has suggested removing medical benefits for immigrants working in the U.S. without proper documentation or permission who suffer workplace injuries. The state's current workers' compensation program provides medical care coverage to protect all employees, including those not in the country legally, and protects businesses that provide workers' compensation benefits from being sued by injured workers.

Workers without legal status reportedly account for more than five percent of North Carolina's workforce, often taking some of the most precarious jobs and sometimes hesitating to file claims for workers' compensation. For many reasons, it is believed to be cheaper to hire them instead of Americans. However, removing workers' compensation benefits for some workers and not others could upset the system, which currently benefits both employees and employers.

Additionally, hospitals would be affected, as they are required by law to provide treatment to every patient without regard to the legality of their residency, so they often have to absorb the costs when employee claims are not accepted. North Carolina law dictates that insurance benefits must be provided even to under or undocumented workers, but the new bill would allow companies that can demonstrate their ignorance of injured employees' immigration status to deny them workers' compensation medical benefits.

The proposed provision, which is currently pending, was reportedly drafted after speculation that the system allowed illegal workers to receive benefits even after a doctor cleared them to return to their jobs. It will be interesting to see if this proposal will move forward.

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