Licensed in Missouri and Kansas

Undocumented Worker Safety

A recent article in the Kansas City Star tells the story of how an undocumented worker from Nicaragua fell to his death at an office building being converted into apartments. The worker, whose name was not released, appears to have fallen 14 floors down an elevator shaft. As a personal injury lawyer handling catastrophic injury cases, this incident reminded me of other cases we’ve handled regarding the safety of undocumented workers. In the almost 20 years I’ve been practicing law, I have seen trends of employers and workplaces cutting corners on safety, especially for undocumented workers.

In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “every day, an average of twelve workers die on the job due to work-related conditions. Another 50,000 workers die each year from occupational disease. Estimates suggest that between 8 million and 12 million work-related injuries or illnesses occur every year. Immigrant workers are disproportionately at risk for workplace safety and health problems – with Latino workers facing the greatest risk of dying on the job.” In my experience, the fear of retaliation and deportation prevents undocumented workers from speaking up about safety on the job.

To help encourage undocumented workers to report unsafe workplaces without fear of retaliation, in March of this year, OSHA announced a new policy giving it the ability to able to issue special visa certifications during its workplace safety and health investigations. These visa give undocumented workers protection from retaliation.

This is a good opportunity to remind undocumented workers that they have an absolute right to file a personal injury or workers’ compensation claim against their employer for workplace injuries. One’s status as an undocumented worker in no way deprives one of the right to access our state and federal courts. This includes the right to file and prosecute a personal injury case for money compensation. These cases not only provide money compensation for injuries from an unsafe workplace, they can also deter a workplace from skirting safety rules. If a workplace knows it can be sued for cutting corners on safety, they may decide to strengthen the safety of their workplace.

If you are an undocumented worker who was injured on the job or know an undocumented worker injured on the job, please contact our firm. Meyerkord, Russell & Hergott can tell you what your rights are and whether you have a claim for compensation.