California's Workplace Laws Cover All Injured Employees Regardless of immigration status

By Attorney Monica Guizar

Across California, immigrant workers who suffer injuries on the job are often reluctant to file Workers' Compensation claims for fear of retaliation by their employer. The sad truth is that many employers not only retaliate against workers who report workplace injuries, but they also try to raise the issue of immigration status in court. That's why it is important that all workers know they have the right to remain silent about their immigration status.

California law protects all workers and prohibits inquiry into the immigration status of workers when enforcing labor laws. Under the law, immigration status is irrelevant when determining an employer's liability. According to Senate Bill 1818, which went into effect in January 2003, an employee's status could only be relevant regarding orders of reinstatement prohibited by federal law.

The California appellate court ruled in 2005 that an injured worker's immigration status is irrelevant to his Workers' Comp claim, and found that federal immigration law does not preempt the State Labor Code. The court noted that the California Legislature enacted Labor Code section 1171.5 in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2002. The legislature declared that the Supreme Court's Hoffman decision did not change the protection or remedies available to undocumented workers under state law - including their right to Workers' Comp after suffering an injury on the job.

Therefore, immigrant workers and their advocates should never allow employers to raise the issue of immigration status during a Workers' Comp action. Immigrant workers should remember to keep their status confidential and never answer related questions.

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Monica Guizar is an Employment Policy Attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. For more information on the rights and remedies of immigrant workers, contact NILC at www.nilc.org.

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