As indicated by the California Applicant Attorneys' Association, undocumented workers make up 10% of California's workforce and annually contribute $130 billion to California’s GDP. Given these statistics, as aptly stated by Republican strategist Mike Madrid:
"[The state] doesn't have the luxury of being ideological.... The undocumented are not going anywhere."
And, given this reality, we can therefore anticipate that undocumented workers, like anyone, will sometimes get injured on the job and require necessary medical treatment. However, on that same token, undocumented workers looking to avoid deportation may be wary of filing a Workers' Compensation claim and/or assume the law would not extend Workers' Compensation insurance benefits to them.
Undocumented Workers are Entitled to Workers' Compensation Benefits
Under California law, all workers, regardless of legal status, are entitled to Workers' Compensation benefits. They are also extended all other job protections under California law, such as overtime and anti-discrimination provisions. This is prescribed by a 2002 state law, as well as as judicial opinions that have since liberally construed that law as protecting undocumented workers' rights under a variety of circumstances.
For instance, in 2015, California's Supreme Court ruled that an undocumented worker using a false Social Security number when applying for jobs could still possibly obtain Workers' Compensation benefits for a back injury sustained at work. The majority opinion stated:
"Although federal immigration law prohibits an unauthorized alien’s use of any false document to get a job, that law does not prohibit an employer from paying, or an employee from receiving, wages earned during employment wrongfully obtained by false documents, so long as the employer remains unaware of the employee’s unauthorized status."
In cases like these, the courts have reiterated that all workers receive benefits regardless of immigration status, as prescribed by law.
Even when undocumented workers have a valid Workers' Compensation or other claim, many still refrain from exercising their rights out of concern that getting themselves "in the system" will alert deportation authorities, aka ICE. While ICE has used legal proceedings to locate undocumented immigrants, the state offers some protections in the Workers' Compensation system that aim to prevent this from happening. Although these protections are not a complete safeguard, undocumented workers should know the following:
Undocumented Workers Enforcing Their Rights Deters Worker Exploitation
As can be inferred from state laws and policies, California is fairly liberal when it comes to undocumented workers' rights. Although filing a Workers' Compensation claim is ultimately a personal decision, many Applicants' attorneys want to help undocumented workers with their claims. Not only are undocumented workers' rights fully protected under the law, but enforcing those rights serves as a way to ensure employers treat their workers humanely.