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Do undocumented workers benefit from workers' compensation?

Imagine you arrived from Guatemala 10 years ago and, due to circumstances outside of your control, you needed to stay in the country. Maybe your family was in desperate need of your help in the United States. The problem is, you ended up overstaying your visa and you've been an undocumented laborer ever since.

A situation like this could be frightening -- especially now in the current immigration climate. To add even more fear and uncertainty to the equation, you recently suffered a catastrophic injury while working in your farming job. You're no longer able to work as a result of broken bones and other injuries, you can't earn an income and you have no idea how to pay for your medical care.

"Am I proverbially 'up a creek'?"

Can an undocumented immigrant like you submit a workers' compensation claim in North Carolina to pay for your medical care and time spent out of work? In some cases, the answer is "yes." But the law is always subject to interpretation. Trends in judgments can change depending on the ever-evolving political climate, changing laws and changing public perceptions.

You have rights that must be upheld

Strictly speaking, sound arguments for workers' compensation benefits might be made under the letter of North Carolina workers' compensation law. In fact, the legal definition of "employee" in North Carolina statutes doesn't have anything to do with your immigration status. Anyone who is employed under a contract for hire or under a contract for apprenticeship -- whether it's written or oral, express or implied -- can benefit from workers' compensation protection. This includes undocumented immigrant workers and minors -- whether or not their employment is "lawful."

Of course, the law is always subject to interpretation, and employers can be exceedingly tricky when dealing with undocumented immigrants. In fact, if you're an undocumented immigrant, you can be sure that your employer chose to violate the law and hire you because it enabled him or her to get the job done by paying reduced wages.

Whatever your situation, if you've suffered an injury at work and you're an undocumented immigrant, you might want to contact an attorney immediately -- even before you notify your employer of the injuries you've sustained. Simply pick up the phone and call your attorney for more information about strategies for documenting your injury and submitting a workers' compensation claim in a manner that honors your current situation and need.

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