Virginia’s workplaces are more diverse today than they’ve ever been. Employees from foreign countries make up nearly one-third of the state’s workforce, and northern Virginia is one of the most diverse regions in the U.S. The Virginia Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) is dedicated to protecting workplace diversity and preventing any kind of discrimination against employees of diverse backgrounds and languages in the Commonwealth.
The DHRM’s mission is to encourage workplace practices and policies that support inclusion and make discrimination a thing of the past. This means that non-English-speaking employees in Virginia deserve the same rights and privileges that English speakers do. One of those rights is access to workers’ compensation benefits for all workers who sustain injuries and illnesses in the course of performing their job duties.
Services Available for Non-English Speakers Injured on the Job
Interpreters are provided by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (VWC) for non-English-speaking claimants who’ve had their claims denied and want to request evidentiary hearings before the Commission. The claimant may file a request through an attorney for the interpreter, and there is no charge to the claimant for the interpreter’s service. The Deputy Commissioner assigned to the case must receive the request for an interpreter 30 days or more before the hearing is scheduled to take place.
The evidentiary hearing, however, can be requested only after a claim has been denied, so if the worker needs assistance understanding the process before they are denied, they should contact Dulaney, Lauer & Thomas right away. We specialize in workers’ comp cases and offer bilingual legal services. Our workers’ comp attorneys can help the injured non-English-speaking employee by gathering and presenting all medical evidence, handling communications with the employer and the insurer involved, and representing the claimant throughout the appeals process if a claim is denied.
Virginia Workers’ Compensation Basics
Virginia employers with three or more workers on their payrolls are required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance that covers employees’ work-related injuries and illnesses. Because workers’ comp is no-fault insurance, the employee need not prove that any negligence on the employer’s part caused the accidental injury or illness. Even a worker who causes an accident is entitled to file a claim for workers’ comp benefits.
It is important to understand that every worker is entitled to compensation if they are injured on the job, including undocumented workers, and they cannot be punished by their employer for filing a claim. In this situation, working with an attorney is highly recommended.
What Workers’ Comp Covers
If the injured workers’ claim is accepted, workers’ compensation benefits should cover all medical expenses resulting from the work-related injury, including the following:
- Doctor’s appointments
- Visits to an emergency room
- Transportation for medical purposes
- All medical treatment
- Home nursing care
- Physical therapy
- Assistive equipment such as a wheelchair, a walker, or crutches
Workers’ comp also reimburses two-thirds of the wages that an employee loses while off work for treatment of the injury and recovery. Vocational re-training and long-term disability benefits are available in some cases. Family members who lose a loved one in an on-the-job accident may file a workers’ comp death benefit claim.
Common Workplace Injuries in Virginia
Every employee in Virginia, regardless of language or national origin, is entitled to work in a safe environment. Employers who violate safety guidelines set out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can be penalized for doing so. Nevertheless, workers in various industries regularly sustain injuries from slip-and-fall accidents, overexertion, vehicle crashes, exposure to toxins, faulty workplace machinery, falling objects, and exposure to hot and sharp surfaces. The injuries that result include:
- Musculoskeletal injuries
- Fractured bones
- Sprained joints
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Respiratory problems
- Back trouble
- Spinal cord damage
- Psychological injury (such as PTSD)
An employee who sustains any of these or other injuries on the job must prove the injury occurred at a specific time in the workplace or elsewhere if the employee travels off-site for work purposes. Psychological injuries must result from proven physical injuries to be compensable. VWC generally does not award benefits for repetitive motion disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Injuries that result from workplace misconduct, illegal behavior, intentional self-harm, or the use of alcohol or drugs are not covered by Virginia workers’ comp. Sorting through these requirements can be especially difficult if the claimant does not speak English.
What If You Have a Pre-Existing Condition?
A claimant who has a preexisting injury or medical condition can collect workers’ comp benefits by proving that a work-related accident aggravated that condition or made it worse. The employer’s insurance company, however, is likely to use the excuse of a preexisting condition to deny the employee’s claim and avoid paying benefits.
The injured worker is likely to have difficulty fighting the insurer in such a case, especially for a recent immigrant who doesn’t speak English. Our workers’ comp team will consult with doctors and bring in expert witnesses to prove that the work injury made the employee’s condition worse and is compensable.
What to Do If You Were Hurt on the Job
An employee who is injured on the job should report the injury as soon as possible to a supervisor. It’s a good idea to do so in writing, so it might be necessary for a non-English speaker to seek the help of a bilingual friend or co-worker who can write the report in English. The employer should then file a First Report of Injury (FROI) with the VWC, and the employee may submit a Claim for Benefits form from the “Injured Workers” page of the VWC website.
Always Follow the Doctor’s Orders
The employee should then see a doctor approved by the employer’s insurer, which generally offers a panel of three doctors among whom the worker may choose. A worker who doesn't speak English should request a bilingual doctor, if possible, and follow all the doctor’s treatment plans, keep appointments, take medication as prescribed, and retain receipts for all treatments.
When You Should Consult a Workers’ Comp Attorney
An injured worker should consult a workers’ comp lawyer under any of the following circumstances:
- The employer fires or retaliates against the employee for filing a claim.
- The insurer is slow to approve necessary treatments.
- The worker is dissatisfied with the doctor or treatment plan.
- Weekly wage benefits are not paid on time.
- The claim is denied.
A non-English speaker who is injured, however, can improve the chances of receiving fair benefits by working with an attorney throughout the claims process. Doing so reduces the chance of miscommunication with the employer and the insurer. It also helps the worker to complete the process correctly and on time, with no mistakes that can be used to delay or deny the claim.