The reality for an undocumented worker in Florida who suffers an injury on the job is that they may not be paid workers’ compensation benefits under current Florida law. Instead, a current Florida law has been used to arrest and potentially even deport undocumented workers who suffer a workplace injury.
Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has pledged to conduct a legislative review of this state law, stating that “legitimate injuries shouldn’t be denied just because the person was an undocumented immigrant.” This promise was made after an NPR and ProPublica investigation into insurance fraud in the state.
Hundreds of Undocumented Workers Have Been Charged With Workers’ Compensation Fraud
NPR and ProPublica (a non-profit newsroom focused on investigative journalism) found that approximately 800 undocumented workers in Florida have been charged with workers’ compensation fraud. These charges are based on using illicit Social Security numbers for a variety of purposes, including:
- Obtaining employment
- Filing for workers’ compensation benefits
- Both of the above
Of the nearly 800 undocumented workers who were charged, the vast majority (over 560) did not even file a workers’ compensation claim and were still charged with fraud. Further, 130 of the workers had legitimate workplace injuries, but the workers were denied workers’ compensation benefits and were eventually prosecuted. The end result for some of the workers was deportation.
Florida’s Stance on Worker’s Comp for Undocumented Workers Is at Odds with Florida Workers’ Compensation Law
These findings at first glance appear at odds with Florida’s stance to allow workers’ comp benefits for undocumented workers. Despite the fact undocumented workers can receive workers’ comp benefits regardless of their legal status, this law came into conflict with the state’s amended workers’ compensation law in 2003.
This 2003 amendment made using false identification to obtain jobs and workers’ compensation benefits a felony offense in the state. Some insurance companies have used this amended 2003 law to deny claims of undocumented workers, and Sen. Flores is also concerned that this conflict can incentivize companies to behave unethically.
Flores is concerned that companies may use this legal loophole to hire undocumented workers knowing they can threaten the workers with prosecution or even deportation to prevent the workers from pursuing workers’ compensation for an injury.
Since undocumented workers in Florida cannot obtain employment or workers’ comp benefits without an illicit Social Security number, treating such behavior as a felony offense is quite illogical considering Florida law also allows undocumented workers to receive these benefits.
John F. Greene is a Destin criminal defense attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime as an undocumented worker, contact John online or call his office (850) 424-6833 for a legal consultation to get started on a strong legal defense today.