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Workers' Comp Not Working For Low-Wage Employees

By Neetal Parekh on September 29, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Workers' compensation is a state-mandated program for workers who are injured while on the job.  However, a recent study conducted by the National Employment Law Project found that low-wage earners are not likely to file for workers' compensation even when seriously injured.  Many workers were required to report to work after an injury, the study said.

The study, titled "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers" involved interviewing nearly 4400 low-wage employees in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City.  It was conducted by researchers at UCLA, University of Illinois-Chicago, Cornell University, and Rutgers University.  Below are some results from the survey.

  • 12% experienced serious on-the-job injuries during the last 3 years of employment
  • 8% of those workers seriously injured filed a workers' compensation claim
  • 43% of seriously injured employees reported that they were required to return to work, despite their injury
  • When workers told employers about their injury, 50% of workers experienced an illegal employer reaction:
    • 30% said their employer refused to help with the injury
    • 13% reported being fired shortly after being injured
    • 4% of the injured were threatened with deportation
  • 33% of workers injured on the job paid their bills out-of-pocket or used insurance.
  • Workers compensation insurance paid for only 6% of the claims of workers who reported injuries

As solutions to the issues noted, the researchers of the study advocated strengthening government enforcement as a way to protect low-wage earners.  Among other solutions, they suggested moving toward an "investigation-driven" enforcement method, partnering with community organizations and centers to identify where workplace violations are occurring, and strengthening penalties for violations.


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