Law Change: Unsafe California Companies Can't Use Immigration Status To Cheat Injured Workers

30 November 2016
 Categories: Law, Blog


A recent law passed by the state assembly of California makes it easier for undocumented immigrant workers to report and receive compensation for injuries resulting from safety violations and/or accidents that happen while the worker is on the job. While the new law only affects workers and companies in California, it sets a precedent for the way safety violations and lawsuits involving immigrants should be handled by the courts to be fair to all parties. Here's why this law is important:

The nation relies on immigrant labor, like it or not

U.S. industries rely on immigrant labor to meet construction, harvesting and butchering demands. Many of the vital jobs in these fields are dangerous. Too many immigrants are employed by contractors, agencies and subcontractors who pay untaxed, substandard wages to workers who perform these jobs. Many immigrant workers are denied proper medical coverage for injuries and accidents suffered on the job.

In only three years' time in Massachusetts alone, the state's attorney general received 1,300 job-related complaints about wages and injuries, including stories of untreated broken bones, concussions and other painful, debilitating conditions caused by workplace injuries. The numbers of complaints should be even higher considering that many undocumented immigrants refuse to report their workplace accidents and injuries. They may fear or have been threatened with deportation. They may fear not getting paid, or worse, fear the authorities won't care about workplace negligence at all.

Assembly Bill No. 2159 removes immigration from the civil suit

In a wrongful death or personal injury claim brought before a civil court in California, immigration status is not allowed to be admissible or discoverable by the parties. In the past, injured workers or their survivors had to provide evidence of their legal status and prove that they were not in line to be deported soon.

Even after proving worker and resident status to qualify for compensation, many immigrants were denied future wage calculations based on U.S. pay before Bill 2159 took effect. These awards are designed to make up for the pay that an injured or deceased worker would have brought home had the injury or death not occurred. The California courts had previously allowed awards for future lost earnings based on the pay the person would receive in their home country, not in the U.S.

Companies can no longer get away with this behavior in California. Unscrupulous employers have to tighten up their safety or pay up if they're negligent. Indiana and other states are struggling with similar issues as they deal with growing numbers of complaints from undocumented workers.

Hopefully, other states will take note of California's approach. Safer workplaces benefit everyone. Especially in construction, a company that takes safety seriously produces a secure product that endures long after the workers leave the job site.

If you've been injured on the job or know someone who has, make sure they get immediate medical care and talk to a qualified accident attorney before they make any decisions about legal action. Each state's laws are different when it comes to undocumented workers, but the laws are slowly changing to make it safer for everyone to receive the compensation they're due.