Q: I was splashed with a dangerous chemical at work. I’m not sure what it was, but the container had lots of warning signs. Now my skin looks burned and it is very painful to touch. My boss says I’m not eligible for health coverage because I’m not a U.S. cit
The first thing to do (as soon as you’re done reading this) is get immediate medical attention. Health care professionals have an ethical obligation to treat you for your injuries even if you’re not able to pay right away. They will provide medical care even if you’re not a citizen. Go to your regular physician if you have one, or an urgent care facility or hospital emergency room, and explain what happened. If you do not speak English well, bring along a friend or relative to help with communication.
Second: talk to the human resources department at your workplace—or talk to your boss, if the business doesn’t have a formal human resources person—and fill out the paperwork to report your accident and start a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. You can do this even if the boss warns you that the claim will be denied. Bosses lie to employees all the time about their legal rights.
Maybe your employer will try to fight your claim later—but you can’t possibly collect on a claim if you never file one.
The Exceptions to Universal Coverage for Workplace Injuries
In Pennsylvania, the workers’ compensation program provides money to pay for medical care and some replacement wages for workers who have been injured on the job. Your exposure to a dangerous chemical sounds like exactly the kind of accident that the workers’ compensation program was set up to handle.
We don’t know why your boss is so determined that you don’t file a claim—perhaps you weren’t given proper safety handling instructions, or you weren’t issued the right gear to protect you, and the company doesn’t want the accident report to be noted by safety officials. Your boss’s attempt to scare you away from filing a claim is clumsy.
Some workers may be excluded from workers’ compensation coverage in Pennsylvania, either based on the nature of the job they perform or by their personal characteristics. Groups that are commonly excluded include:
- Federal employees
- Longshoremen and railroad workers
- Real estate dealers paid by commission
- Some short-term casual employees and domestic workers
- Some agricultural workers with limited annual earnings
- Some people who have asked for exemptions based on religious beliefs
Citizenship is not a requirement for workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania. You can collect benefits if you are a citizen, a permanent legal resident, or a foreign-born resident without proper documentation. A 2002 Pennsylvania legal case, Reinforced Earth Company v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, established that workers’ compensation public policy benefits were broad enough that undocumented workers should be included.
You should not hesitate to file a claim for your workplace injuries merely because you are not a citizen. If you were working for an employer that is legally obligated to provide workers’ compensation coverage, and if you were injured in the course of your normal work duties, you should be eligible for benefits.
Standing Up for Your Rights
The United States is proud of its tradition of granting important legal rights to people who are not yet citizens. This is especially important in the area of employment, because non-citizens often work in some of the riskiest jobs in the nation. It’s important that their bosses understand that all workers regardless of citizenship need the same protections against workplace injuries.
Schmidt Kramer provides legal representation for injured workers in central Pennsylvania and across the state who have been hurt on the job. Our determined Harrisburg workers’ comp attorneys are tireless in their determination to get fair benefits for their clients. If you want a confidential and FREE case review with a lawyer in our offices, call 717-888-8888 or 888-476-0807 toll-free to make an appointment. We would also be pleased to send you a free copy of our client report, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured at Work?