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Can undocumented workers receive workers’ compensation?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is more complicated – for the general contractor or other employer. Manual labor industries, especially agriculture and construction provide many undocumented immigrants with job opportunities. According to the Pew Research Center, agriculture jobs construction jobs accounted for 30% of the jobs performed by undocumented workers in 2014.

Even so, these employees have a right to workers’ compensation. It’s required for all employees. Some states make it very clear that non-resident workers are to be provided workers’ comp.

Is it worth it for the contractor?

That’s where it can hurt the employer. Job accidents happen, especially in manual labor industries, and some can be quite severe. If an employer hires an unauthorized, non-legal worker and they get seriously injured to the point that workers’ comp benefit payments are handed out, the employer could face hefty fines and penalties.

The employer would face penalties if benefits are being paid to the undocumented worker, but the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) believes a law regarding employment eligibility was not met. The worker’s employment eligibility must be able to be documented via a USCIS I-9 form for the employer to avoid the associated penalties and fines.

As a contractor, be cautious and fully examine your worker’s I-9 eligibility. If you want to be extra careful, echo this advice to your subcontractors, who are often more focused on completing the job and hiring anyone to do so without vetting the unauthorized worker’s eligibility. If a subcontractor does hire an unauthorized immigrant who gets severely hurt on a jobsite and requires workers’ comp benefits, it you, the primary contractor and employer that will face fines and penalties.

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