Did you know that one worker is injured on the job every seven seconds in the United States? That equals more than 12,000 injuries a day and 4.6 million annually. While these numbers are staggering, they may not even account for all injuries. Migrant workers specifically are often hesitant to report injuries, because they may be unsure of their rights and even fear deportation if they receive medical care.
Every state in the U.S. administers workers’ compensation laws differently, but there are fundamental rights that protect Americans from dangerous situations. They know that they have the right to medical treatment and to seek compensation after a workplace injury. Native workers also have the express right to a safe working environment.
Yet, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, migrant workers are 15 percent more likely to suffer fatal injuries on the job than their native counterparts. This may be due in part to the industries and jobs many migrant workers tend to work. They may find employment in construction, landscaping, or agriculture because these jobs are plentiful and often not filled by American workers. However, the physical nature of many of these jobs can leave them at a higher than average risk of injury.
As an immigrant, the statistics on the current state of workplace safety and the uncertainty of how to obtain care and compensation can be downright frightening. If you’ve been injured on the job, here is some essential information that may help you navigate the system and know how to protect your rights, even if you are undocumented.
Migrant Workers in the United States
According to the Pew Research Center, more than 40 million people living in the U.S. were born in another country. Just over three-quarters of migrant workers are here legally, leaving another quarter undocumented and vulnerable to unsafe situations at work and even forced labor.
Some people may argue that immigration hurts the U.S. economy — however, when you think about all of the additional workers adding to the tax revenue, you might reconsider that immigration actually stimulates the U.S. economy. An unfortunate factor adding to the increase in the economy is that these workers don’t usually use other work-related benefits, because they either don’t quality or fear being reported and even deported. This often leads to them going without critical medical treatment and being off work with no compensation.
As an undocumented worker, you may want to go through the process of seeking legal documentation to work. However, due to the current American debate and recent law changes regarding those who are undocumented, it may feel too risky to start the process. It’s important to know that there are many ways to work as a non-citizen that follows all of the laws, if this is a possibility for you. For example, you might be able to get a work permit which allows you to work legally while you are here. To get a permit, you’ll need to obtain the right type of work visa, which depends on the kind of work you plan to do.
Navigating the System
If you’re injured on the job, you may not know what steps to take after the injury. Depending on your legal status in the U.S. and the ethical practices of your employer, you might feel like you have minimal options. Here are a few strategies you can use to ensure you get the care you need and compensation to continue living after the injury.
Report the Injury
You may be tempted to not say anything if you get hurt. However, it’s critical that you report the injury to your supervisor, human resources department, or directly to your employer. You may need to complete a written report about the injury. Be sure to complete the form with as many details as possible, including when it happened, how it happened, and if there were any witnesses. This report is usually sent to the state to start a workers’ compensation claim, if that’s what you’re seeking. Without it, you won’t be considered for any type of medical or compensation coverage.
Seek Medical Attention
If your injury is severe or painful, go to the doctor right away to begin treatment. Ignoring injuries to muscles, bones, or ligaments may cause further and even irreparable damage. Speak with your employer to see if they have a specific physician they would like you to see. If not, call your primary caregiver or other doctor and ask if they take workers’ compensation claims. This is a critical step in ensuring that bills for medical care are covered.
When you visit the physician, provide them with a detailed description of the accident. Let them know about your current symptoms and what makes the injury feel better or worse. Take a friend or family member with you if it makes you more comfortable or if you need help with translation or understanding medical information.
Ask for Modified Duty
One excellent strategy you can request after an injury is working in a modified duty position. Many employers participate in modified duty work programs to keep the cost of their overall workera’ compensation claims lower. These programs allow you to work in a job that fits specific restrictions set by your doctor, such as lifting restrictions or not working more than eight hours each day.
When you work modified duty, you will receive your working wages. This can help alleviate fears of not receiving compensation while you’re hurt. However, you may still need to discuss with your employer and state about your right to medical treatment.
Contact an Attorney
If you are injured on the job and struggling to get a clear picture of your rights to medical care and compensation, call an attorney. They will be able to look at your situation to determine if it is an injury or disability case and then provide clear instructions for next steps. Depending on your legal status, your attorney may not be able to help. But at least you will have a clear understanding of your rights and how to protect yourself from other adverse events, such as deportation.
Staying Safe at Work
You must work safely anytime you are on the job to protect yourself from injury. You might need to request protective equipment from your employer or take your scheduled lunchtime and breaks to give your body the rest it needs. If you are injured on the job, be sure to follow these four strategies to get the care and compensation required to get you back on your feet again.
Author Info: Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, and a graduate of the lessons of life (primary) and also the University of Idaho. These days, Noah teaches English as a second language in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and moonlights as a content strategist for an American based marketing company.