Ohio legislation to bar illegal workers from collecting workers comp

According to Risk & Insurance Magazine, the Ohio Senate approved a bill aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from collecting workers compensation benefits.
Lawmakers voted 21-12 to pass S.B. 238, sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati. Ohio law permits minors and aliens to receive workers’ comp benefits but does not have statutory language in place to block illegal immigrants from receiving awards. Language already exists blocking undocumented workers from collecting unemployment and Medicaid payments. Seitz noted that the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation doesn’t require injured employees to document their status prior to receiving benefits.
Under the legislation, injured employees would be required to prove that they are legally permitted to work in the country by providing a visa or birth certificate.

injury in migrant housing covered by workers compensation

Frantz Pierre lived in his employer’s tin-roofed barracks while doing seasonal work. He could not afford to live anywhere else. He hurt his ankle through an accident while living in the barracks. That was in 2003. The South Carolina Supreme Court just ruled that his employer’s workers compensation policy had to pay for Pierre’s medical treatment and disability.
It took seven years for this elemental matter of employer accountability to be established. This is a case study of the law’s delay in righting the scales of justice.
Roberto Ceniceros reported on this case in Business Insurance.
The article in full:
Migrant worker’s injury in company housing ruled compensable
By Roberto Ceniceros
COLUMBIA, S.C.—A fractured ankle a migrant worker received while living in employer-provided housing arose in the course of employment and is compensable, the South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled.
The Tuesday decision in Frantz Pierre vs. Seaside Farms Inc. and American Home Insurance Co. overturned rulings by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission and a circuit court, which decided that Mr. Pierre’s 2003 ankle injury was not compensable because he was not at work.
The accident occurred the evening before his first day of work.
The commission and lower court also found that the seasonal worker hired to perform duties in a packing house was not required to live in the employer-provided housing, which court documents describe as a tin-roofed barracks.
But the South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed in remanding the case for further proceedings.
It said that Mr. Pierre’ injury, which occurred when he fell on a sidewalk where water was flowing from an outdoor sink used to wash clothes, occurred as a result of a hazard on his employer’s property.
“Thus, the source of the injury was a risk associated with the conditions under which the employees were required to live,” the state Supreme Court ruled. It also said Mr. Pierre essentially was required to live on the grounds because he and other migrant workers employed by Seaside “did not earn enough to obtain housing, and short-term rentals that coincided with the time they would be in the area did not exist.”
In addition, the nature of the job required workers to live near the packing facility and the living arrangement was convenient for the employer’s work schedule that varied with weather and crop conditions.
In reaching its conclusion, the South Carolina Supreme Court cited similar decisions in Florida, New Mexico and Oregon that relied on a “bunkhouse rule.”
“We find the reasoning in these cases persuasive and that they represent the modern view in employee-residence jurisprudence,” the South Carolina high court ruled.
The bunkhouse rule requires compensating employees who are injured while on an employer’s premises if an employment contract or the necessity of work requires them to be there. The rule generally requires contemplating whether an employee’s use of the premises constitutes a portion of their compensation, court records state.

High injury rates among hotel housekeepers

Henry Ceniceros of Business Insurance alerted me to an article in the New York Times about injury rates among housekeeping workers in the hotel industry. Hispanic women have the highest injury rate – over 10% of them are injured every year.
The Times article refers to a research study. Here is the abstract: OSHA log incidents from five unionized hotel companies for a three-year period were analyzed to estimate injury rates by job, company, and demographic characteristics. Room cleaning work, known to be physically hazardous, was of particular concern. A total of 2,865 injuries were reported during 55,327 worker-years of observation. The overall injury rate was 5.2 injuries per 100 worker-years. The rate was highest for housekeepers (7.9), Hispanic housekeepers (10.6), and about double in three companies versus two others. Acute trauma rates were highest in kitchen workers (4.0/100) and housekeepers (3.9/100); housekeepers also had the highest rate of musculoskeletal disorders (3.2/100). Age, being female or Hispanic, job title, and company were all independently associated with injury risk.
High injury rates among hotel housekeepers have been reported elsewhere – for example here.
The article in full:
Female Hotel Workers Injured More Than Men, Study Shows
Published: November 10, 2009
A new study of workers at 50 hotels in the United States found that women were 50 percent more likely to be injured than men, and that Hispanic women had an injury rate two-thirds higher than their white female counterparts.
The injury rate is higher for female hotel workers because many work as housekeepers, the most injury-prone job.
The study, which will be published in January in The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, said the injury rate was higher for female hotel employees because they worked disproportionately as housekeepers, which is the most injury-prone hotel job.

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New court ruling: illegal worker eligible for permanent disability award

As reported by Roberto Ceniceros in Business Insurance Magazine, an Illinois appellate court has ruled that an illegal worker can be awarded permanent disability benefits for a work injury. Some state courts have ruled against permanent awards, or even vocational rehabilitation (a Nebraska case), for illegal workers by observing that these injured workers are not legally able to work. But this court has said that the worker may be able to work elsewhere in a legal status and the disability would prevent that work.
The article in full:
CHICAGO—Employers can’t deny permanent total disability benefits for illegal immigrants on the basis that their immigration status would prevent them working in the United States legally, a state appeals court ruled.
In Friday’s decision, Illinois’ 1st Judicial District Appellate Court also said it agreed with appeals courts across several other states that “have almost uniformly held” that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 does not preclude awarding workers comp benefits to illegal immigrants.
The case of Economy Packing Co. vs. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission dealt with Ramona Navarro, a Mexican national who slipped and injured herself in May 2002 while working on an assembly line, court records state.
An arbitrator awarded her temporary total disability benefits of $147 per week for 60 weeks and permanent total disability benefits of $371 per week for life. The arbitrator also ruled Ms. Navarro to be an “odd-lot” worker, meaning she is permanently and totally disabled and her limited skills would prevent her from finding future work.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and a trial court agreed and Economy appealed. The employer argued that “undocumented aliens” are always unemployable because of immigration law regardless of their physical capabilities. In order to receive permanent total disability benefits under an odd-lot theory, Ms. Navarro therefore needed to prove that she is not employable due to age, training, education or experience, Economy argued.
The appeals court disagreed.
It found that although immigration law prevents Ms. Navarro from legally working in the United States, she would still be able to work elsewhere had she not sustained an injury on the job.
It also found that an employer has the burden of producing “sufficient evidence that suitable jobs would be regularly and continuously available to the undocumented alien but for her legal inability to obtain employment.”

Medical care for badly injured illegal workers

Robert Ceniceros of Business Insurance has written an informative article about some of the barriers to ensuring that illegal workers who are injured at work obtain the medical care they need. Language barriers, poor housing conditions, false addresses and IDs, and suspicions create problems, according to care managers.
The article:
Illegal workers pose comp care challenges
By Robert Ceniceros
Cultural, administrative issues test case workers
Guiding illegal immigrants injured on the job to appropriate medical care requires workers compensation case managers and claims handlers to take on the role of social worker, detective and translator.
Even delivering indemnity checks often presents additional challenges when injured workers reside in the country illegally, the claims and case managers say.
Still, experts say, comp claims for illegal immigrants must be managed effectively to ensure that treatment is delivered before medical conditions worsen and drive up claims costs, and before attorneys become involved.
Claims managers say they face numerous hurdles when they try to contact illegal immigrants injured at work. Fraudulent Social Security numbers are common, home addresses are wrong, and the workers and their families often are distrustful and unwilling to provide necessary information, fearing immigration authorities may become involved.

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New analysis of workers comp laws and illegal workers

Here is the headline: “Most States Allow Benefits for Illegal Aliens, but Restrictions Abound”. WorkcompCentral (subscription required) ran an article about a new study done on state policies with regard to allowing illegal workers benefitsThis study is exceptional in value because it surveys not only statutes but many key court decisions. The study was prepared by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers. Good for them!
The news article:
Only one state – Wyoming – has a statute that directly prohibits illegal aliens from receiving benefits, but court decisions around the country have narrowed the scope of benefits allowed for undocumented workers, according to a report from the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America.
The IIABA report, called “Workers’ Compensation and Illegal Aliens,” shows that 38 states offer at least some type of benefits to illegal aliens. The report, designed as a chart showing each state’s stance on the issue, also notes the various factors that can be considered when the courts hear claims by workers who obtained their jobs using false documents or fake Social Security numbers.

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NY state illegal worker denied work rehab benefits

Thanks to Workerscompinsider for reporting on the workers comp case of Ronnie Ramroop, an illegal immigrant who lost two fingers in an accident in New York in 1995. The State Cort of Appeals denied in late June his access to further rehabilitation, saying that his illegal work status makes him ineligible. Previously, New York courts have been fairly friendly to illegal workers. This line of reasoning has be adapted by courts in some other states” that immediate care is OK, but not ongoing rehab.
Below is an article published in the New York Times:
Undocumented Worker Ineligible for Additional Benefits: Courts [06/27/08]
New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, issued a 5-2 decision Thursday holding that an undocumented worker is not eligible for additional vocational rehabilitation benefits after his permanent disability award was paid in full because his illegal status makes him ineligible to work in the state.

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Grey market employer crackdowns and illegal workers

Massachusetts, California and Connecticut to taking more pains to find employers who are not paying workers compensation and unemployment insurance – and quite often hiring illegal workers in an exploitative manner.
Massachusetts has launched a Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification. One of the task force’s main targets are employers to don’t buy workers compensation insurance. Under Governor Duvall Patrick, the state administration is not trying to root out illegal workers, but rather to protect workers regardless of legal status. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated in 2005 that MA had about 165,000 illegal workers (see “popular posts” for illegal workers by state).
Google for the task force’s website for more information. I can’t seem to load the URL.
The California’s Workers’ Compensation Enforcement Collaborative is partly a brain child of Bill Zachry, risk manager of Safeway, the state’s largest for profit employer. Zachry is also not trying to root out illegal workers, but rather to crack down on abusive employers. To contact the collaborative, which does not have a website, contact Krystal Tena, Watsonville Law Center, Watsonville, CA 831-722-2845
KrystalT@watsonvillelawcenter.org. The Watsonville Law Center is a rural legal aid organization with a special commitment to protect low income workers. CA was estimated in 2005 yo have 1,800,000 illegal workers.
Connecticut, in contrast, is after illegal workers. It figured out that many of them work for employer who cheat on workers compensation insurance, and the state is going after these employers with the intent on finding illegal workers. CT was estimated in 2005 to have about 50,000 illegal workers.

House of Raeford Farms: three quarters of workers are Hispanic

Earlier I posted about occupational safety horrifics at this large poultry processor in North Carolina. The Charlotte Observer ran a six part series on breakdowns in safety involving plant managers and state safety regulators.
One of the reporters, Peter St. Onge told me that most of the workers are Hispanic.
A passage from the articles:

In the early 1990s, when another company owned the Greenville plant, most
workers were African Americans. Now, most are Latino.
“We can only hire those who apply to work for us, and at the moment between
85 percent and 90 percent of our job applicants are Latino,” said Greenville
complex manager Barry Cronic in a written response.

Undoubtedly many of these workers are illegal, and their reward from the expose ironically will be their fleeing from their work or deportation.
This is the toxic cocktail of employers wanting to hire undocumented workers and then cheasting on safety and/or workers compensation rules. A guest worker program will abolish this cocktail.
Go here for the latest article which deals with reaction from Congress and concerns about the illegal status of workers.

Expose of immigrant worker poultry factory injuries in North Carolina

The Charlotte Observer has run a series of articles on poultry worker injury in North Carolina. Go here for the entire series. It focused on two companies, Tyson Foods and House of Raeford Farm, and ot weak regulators. House of Raeford Farms is one of the largest poultry processing companies in the country. For a period of four years, it did not report a single musculoskeletal disorder among its 800 person workforce. For these and other incredible stories, read this one of several articles in the series:
In an industry rife with danger, House of Raeford Farms depicts itself as a safe place to work. Company records suggest relatively few workers are injured each year as they kill, cut and package millions of chickens and turkeys.
But an Observer investigation shows the N.C. poultry giant has masked the extent of injuries behind its plant walls.
The company has compiled misleading injury reports and has defied regulators as it satisfies a growing appetite for America’s most popular meat. And employees say the company has ignored, intimidated or fired workers who were hurt on the job.
House of Raeford officials say they follow the law and strive to protect workers.
But company and government records and interviews with more than 120 current and former employees show:
• House of Raeford’s 800-worker plant in West Columbia, S.C., reported no musculoskeletal disorders over four years. Experts say that’s inconceivable. MSDs, including carpal tunnel syndrome, are the most common work-related injuries afflicting poultry workers.
• Its Greenville, S.C., plant has boasted of a five-year safety streak with no lost-time accidents. But the plant kept that streak alive by bringing injured employees back to the factory hours after surgery.
• The company has broken the law by failing to record injuries on government safety logs, a top OSHA official says.
• At four of the company’s largest Carolinas plants, company first-aid attendants and supervisors have dismissed some workers’ requests to see a doctor — even when they complained of debilitating pain.

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