Access to Workers' Compensation

Barriers to Workers Compensation Access

“Patrick” was working as a day laborer for a construction company when he suffered a severe back injury while lifting heavy tiles off a roof.  The supervisor drove Jose to a nearby shopping mall and dropped him off.  Unable to move, Jose lay on the ground with a herniated disc until someone he knew took him to the hospital.  The only information that Jose had about his employer was his memory of the name on the truck, part of a license plate number, and a telephone number.  Though the employer denied having ever hired Jose, he did provide the name of an insurer.  Jose filed a claim, but the insurer denied having any record of the employer.

MassCOSH and other worker centers across the Commonwealth regularly see workers like Jose, employed in dangerous industries such as construction, landscaping, restaurants, janitorial work, and window washing.  Despite their vulnerability to workplace injuries, immigrant and other low wage workers face tremendous barriers to gaining access to the workers’ compensation system.  Many are entirely unaware of the availability of workers’ compensation benefits.  A Massachusetts Department of Public Health study found that nearly 52 percent of community health center patients born in countries other than the United States or Puerto Rico had never heard of workers’ compensation.   With limited or non-existent English language skills, immigrant workers frequently cannot read English-language workplace postings.  Moreover, many work for employers that fail to post the required notice or, just as likely, do not carry workers’ compensation coverage at all.

Even when workers are aware of their rights when injured on the job, many find that their employers actively deter or prevent them from filing a workers’ compensation claim.  Many immigrants’ employers simply fail to file a report of injury, refuse to assist workers in obtaining necessary medical care, and/or insist that workers deny that their injuries are workplace-related when seeking such care, sometimes threatening them with termination or other types of retaliation.  Sometimes employers erroneously claim that their employees are independent contractors, ineligible for workers’ compensation coverage.

Access to Comp Task Force

In light of these concerns, MassCOSH and several of its member attorneys, fellow members of the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative, Greater Boston Legal Services and Justice @ Work have partnered with the Department of Industrial Accidents to improve the workers’ compensation system and to prevent employers from evading their legal obligations.

Currently, MassCOSH is working to pass an Act Increasing Injured Workers’ Access to Medical Care and Workers’ Compensation Benefits (HB1684). The bill removes many hurdles low-wage workers face when attempting to obtain benefits. Click here to learn more.

The Task Force has worked on a range of issues from the translation of letters distributed to workers to improving the review process of the Trust Fund, which serves worker whose employers fail to purchase comp.  The DIA has made a significant commitment to improvements and made important achievements, including instituting a language line and training staff to respond to non-English speaking inquiries; translating important documents; and reaching out to the Mass. Association of Community Health Centers to make it easier for health centers that serve the state’s lowest income population to participate in the workers comp system.