New Ohio Workers’ Comp Bill Would Put Immigrant Workers on the Spot
The two-year, $645 million workers’ compensation budget passed by the Ohio House of Representatives in early June included a last-minute amendment: a provision that would require applicants for workers’ compensation benefits to check a box regarding citizenship and immigration status.
If the bill passes, an injured worker seeking benefits would be required to indicate that he or she is a U.S. citizen, a non-citizen with permission to work in the U.S. or an illegal or unauthorized alien.
The bill has moved to the Senate and been referred to the Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee.
In theory, nothing in the legislation would prevent undocumented immigrants from applying for and receiving workers’ compensation.
That idea has failed at least twice: the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Seitz, proposed denying workers’ compensation benefits to undocumented workers in 2017. During an earlier term in the Ohio Senate, Seitz submitted a bill that would have required injured workers seeking benefits to provide proof of authorization to work.
Seitz says the purpose of the amendment is to gather data that will allow the General Assembly to determine whether any action is required with regard to these claimants.
Cleveland.com says Seitz pointed to an alleged large number of claims filed by workers at companies targeted in federal immigration raids last year. But, in fact, the BWC doesn’t reveal statistics relating to specific employers, and those raids impacted industries generally at high risk for injuries.
A long-ago Ohio appellate case specifically upheld the right of an unauthorized immigrant worker to receive benefits, citing serious public policy concerns associated with excluding workers from workers’ comp protection. However, such a provision is likely to serve as a deterrent, making immigrants who entered the country illegally or are out of status afraid to request benefits.
And, other legislators have pointed out that the burden on the public may be greater if injured workers’ are afraid to apply for benefits since emergency room visits are often their only other option.
Dangers of Denying Immigrants Workers’ Compensation
Creates a Danger to Immigrant Workers
The first and most obvious concern is that denying workers’ compensation benefits to any otherwise qualified injured worker—or even intimidating such workers from applying for benefits—defeats the purpose of the workers’ compensation statute. Injured workers who lacked the appropriate legal status could find themselves without access to medical care, aggravating injuries and perhaps even endangering their lives.
But, the ramifications of a policy like this extend far beyond immigrant workers.
Creates a Laxity in Overall Workplace Safety
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) creates incentives for employers to maintain safe working conditions and to quickly correct any problems that arise. Employers naturally want to avoid workers’ compensation claims to the degree possible, and the best way to avoid claims is to maintain facilities in a safe condition, create policies that protect workers, and provide adequate training and safety equipment.
But, the appellate court in the case referenced above said, injuries to aliens ineligible for workers’ compensation wouldn’t cost an employer any money, “…the employer may become lax in workplace safety, knowing it would suffer no consequences if its employees were injured at work.”
If the bill passes, Ohio’s hard-working immigrant population will have one more obstacle to navigate as they labor to support their families and work toward legal residence.
The Challenges Facing our Immigrant Workers
This effort serves as an unwelcome but important reminder of the number of pitfalls—some entirely unanticipated—facing our immigrant workers and the importance of being fully educated before engaging in any legal process.
If you are uncertain about how to proceed with an immigration or workers’ compensation matter, the experienced attorneys at Dworken & Bernstein can help. Contact us to schedule a free consultation right now.
The information presented in this post is not legal advice and does not form a lawyer/client relationship. Laws and circumstances can differ and change.
Please contact us for a personal review of your situation