Undocumented workers injured on the job find themselves in the difficult position of deciding whether to file for the compensation they deserve or suffer in silence. Workers who have obtained employment illegally must concern themselves with the threat of being reported by their employer or the insurance company. This is happening all too frequently, as unscrupulous organizations attempt to avoid paying workers compensation claims. Some Florida lawmakers are calling this exploitation and taking efforts to implement change.
A Real Life Example
In 2014, undocumented construction worker Abednego de la Cruz suffered a serious injury during the course of his employment. His index finger was nearly severed, but when he applied for worker's compensation, his claim was denied. Instead of receiving the same benefits his legal co-workers would have received, he was arrested for fraud and detained for 33 days.
The Current State of Affairs
Under current laws, employers must verify documents proving their workers are eligible for employment in the United States. However, many accept fake IDs or fail to complete proper verification. This can benefit employers by creating a large pool of cheap labor. At the same time, the workers themselves may face felony charges for obtaining employment with a false ID.
When an undocumented worker is injured on the job, employers have the option of avoiding claims by threatening to report the worker to authorities. Employees often choose to remain silent rather than face the prospect of arrest, jail time, or even deportation.
Rep. Sean Shaw, a Democrat from Tampa, Florida, is preparing an amendment to address this issue. Under this proposal, employers who hire workers without completing proper verification will have to pay worker's compensation claims despite illegal worker status.
Arguments in Support of Law Changes
It's estimated that immigrants make up one-fourth of Florida's labor force, and 20 percent of them are undocumented. A large number of these workers are employed in potentially dangerous industries like agriculture and farming.
Proponents of the amendment argue that in addition to supporting worker exploitation, the current rules create an unsafe work environment for all employees. Employers who believe they won't have to cover costs for injured employees are less likely to implement proactive safety measures.
Furthermore, employers may purposely recruit undocumented workers under the belief that it will allow them to avoid paying for injury claims. Since illegal workers typically accept far lower wages, the practice puts these unethical companies in a position to undercut law-abiding businesses.
Employer Best Practices
As an employer, you may feel confident that you would never report your employees to the authorities. However, there's no guarantee that your insurance company won't.
Take advantage of available resources, like the Federal E-Verify system, to help ensure the documents your workers present are genuine. When you avoid hiring illegal workers in the first place, you save yourself the headache of dealing with these types of issues. Although it's not yet mandatory for all employers to use the E-Verify system, best practices dictate doing so.