Foreign-born workers face difficulties in obtaining workers’ compensation benefits

Group 152

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For many foreign born workers, obtaining medical treatment following a work injury can be extremely difficult. This can be due to misconceptions about the culture and language barriers.

Let me give you an example. The other day I was sitting in on a statement of my client to an insurance adjuster and their interpreter. Fortunately, for me and my client I had someone from my office sit in on the conversation. I found that often times the insurance companies interpreter, who was being paid by the insurance company, failed to accurately interpret my client’s statements. It became frustrating not only for my client but also for the adjuster.


I think  that if it is determined that an employee is foreign born or even undocumented a sense of mistrust develops between the parties. Now, I do not think it happens all the time but for some if the employee is willing to lie about his social security number it is assumed he would be willing to lie about his work injury.  Obviously, this type of inference is just wrong.

Roberto Ceniceros wrote an article in Business Insurance concerning the difficulties associated with providing workers’ compensation benefits to undocumented injured workers. Some of challenges noted in his article are:

  • Fraudulent social security numbers
  • Language issues.
  • Wrong home addresses
  • Distrustful family members
  • Impoverished living conditions leading to possible infection following surgery
  • Different phone numbers
  • The injured worker returns to his/her country

One of the items discussed in the article was “building a trusting relationship” with the claimant. I agree that trust needs to be an important factor but I also think that one should also keep an open mind when dealing with foreign born workers.   Language barriers can often cause difficulties communicating with employers, medical professionals, and rehabilitation specialists.  Moreover, undocumented workers rarely have the means to obtain insurance or the means to obtain medical treatment if the injury is denied by the insurer.

All these issues should be taken into consideration and it should not be immediately assumed the foreign born worker is lying or malingering.

Communication is one of the keys to a successful recovery and return to work in any case.