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NJ Workers’ Compensation Protections for Immigrant Workers

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Many workers injured on the job have concerns about pursuing benefits through their employers’ workers’ compensation insurer. While these benefits are designed specifically to help injured workers who need time to recover from their injuries (or those who are unable to work and earn income because they were injured on the job), the common fear tends to be that workers may face some sort of adverse employment action – be it reduced hours or termination – if they choose to exercise their rights and collect workers’ compensation benefits.

These fears are often amplified among immigrant workers who rely on their jobs for income to support themselves and their families and who may have concerns regarding their immigration status and ability to continue working in the U.S.

At Levinson Axelrod, P.A., we hear these concerns all the time when representing New Jersey clients in workers’ compensation proceedings and we understand where they come from. It can certainly seem like the playing field is an uneven one, and that employers have much more power than injured workers.

Fortunately, however, this is not the case. That’s because New Jersey law has powerful protections in place for workers who suffer injuries and illnesses in the course of their employment. These protections make it abundantly clear that the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation system will not tolerate retaliation by an employer against an injured worker who has decided to pursue a claim.

For example, section 39.1 of the Workers’ Compensation Act establishes a process by which an injured worker may seek sanctions and penalties against their employer, if the employer takes any retaliatory action against the injured worker for having pursued their rightful benefits. This may include slashing their hours, terminating the employment relationship (or threatening to do so), or even implying that reporting a work injury may endanger the injured worker’s ability to obtain a work permit, or to continue working in the U.S.

Federal Law Also Protects Immigrant Workers Injured on the Jobs, Provides Work Permits to Those Who Help Investigations

In addition to protections against employer retaliation under New Jersey law, there are also federal protections in place to shield injured workers from illegal retaliation – including a little-known federal program that can help immigrant workers obtain work permits when they report violations and help authorities investigate their employers.

As detailed in a recent article published by The City, immigrant workers routinely harbor concerns about the ways in which work-related injuries may threaten their employment and work status.

In some cases, some immigrant workers face added challenges when they are presented with difficult decisions from employers looking to illegally circumvent the workers’ compensation process. This happened to two workers profiled in the article – one who was instructed by his site foreman to take a cab, rather than an ambulance, to the hospital and to tell doctors that he hurt himself at the park, and another who was similarly told not to disclose that he was injured on the job after he suffered an eye injury on a construction site.

Ultimately, both workers shared their experiences with authorities who were investigating workers’ compensation fraud and retaliation against their employer and, in return, received working papers after having spent more than a decade in the U.S. as undocumented workers.

The work authorizations received by the two workers in the article were awarded through a federal program operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The program, which went into effect in January 2023, allows noncitizen workers who witness or experience labor right violations to access a streamlined and expedited process to obtain deferred action, which protects them from threats of immigration-related retaliation by exploitive employers.

The law provides considerable protections to immigrant workers, who have long faced risks of being exploited by employers, especially after suffering work-related injuries. The ability to obtain work permits is a crucial part of the law, as it encourages these workers to step forward and report labor law violations and cooperative in investigations, and thus enables the federal government to crack down on bad employers.

Have Questions About Your Rights After a Work Injury? Call (732) 440-3089

At Levinson Axelrod, P.A., our workers’ compensation team has fought for injured workers across New Jersey since 1939. During this time, we’ve represented countless immigrant workers and workers who’ve been exploited and retaliated against by their employers. If you have questions about your rights following a work-related injury, we’re here to help.

Levinson Axelrod, P.A. proudly serves clients across New Jersey from 10 office locations. To request a free review of your case, call (732) 440-3089 or contact us online.

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