Column: Workers' Comp

Opinion | Our Hypocrisy and Callousness Toward Undocumented Workers

By: | July 16, 2018 • 3 min read
Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.
Topics: Workers' Comp

President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” illegal immigration policy that separated parents from children outraged many Americans.


Disturbingly though, some Americans cheered the action.

Equally disturbing to me is a lack of compassion exhibited by shady employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers then dump them should they get injured on the job.

These employers take advantage of poor people, knowing workers in the country illegally are unlikely to report the employer’s failure to purchase workers’ compensation insurance or provide mandated medical care and indemnity.

Legislation currently before Ohio’s Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee would essentially legalize such practices.

While Ohio businesses and residents rely on undocumented worker labor — evidenced by the recent arrests of more than 200 workers at Ohio meat processing plants and flower nurseries — House Bill 380 would bar “illegal or unauthorized aliens” from receiving workers’ comp benefits.

The bill also calls for granting employers immunity from liability for undocumented worker injuries.

Over the years, insurers, to their credit, have often helped quash similar bills proposed across different states, by arguing such a law would encourage unscrupulous employers to hire more illegal immigrants because they get to forego workers’ comp expenses.

Immigrants are already at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining workers’ comp benefits that they are legally entitled to.

Workers’ comp claims professionals and nurse case managers tell me that the normal challenges of providing medical care increase when undocumented workers don’t speak English, don’t have valid Social Security numbers, or use pseudonyms.

Their poverty often results in their changing addresses or losing phone service frequently, making them difficult for case managers to locate.

These employers take advantage of poor people, knowing workers in the country illegally are unlikely to report the employer’s failure to purchase workers’ compensation insurance or provide mandated medical care and indemnity.

If they are located, case managers must overcome a heightened sense of mistrust.


All these factors increase the likelihood that undocumented workers won’t receive the level of care they might otherwise get.

It’s reasonable to think fear caused by recent increased immigration enforcement is spreading even more reluctance to seek workplace injury treatment.

A Denver-area doctor who primarily treats workers’ comp claimants, including about 30 percent who only speak Spanish, recently told me that in past years he treated one or two workers per week who couldn’t provide Social Security numbers.

“It becomes pretty clear when someone has no Social Security number and is undocumented,” he said.

“Sometimes they would admit it, or say ‘oh, I don’t have that and it’s somewhere else,’ and they are never able to find it.”

But over the past year or so with increased enforcement of immigration laws those workers aren’t showing up at the doctor’s office. He thinks they are now more afraid that a system they don’t understand will expose their immigration status.

“I was used to seeing several undocumented workers and treating them,” the doctor said.

“The reality, I think, is we are just not seeing them anymore because they are afraid to seek care for their work injuries.”

Some Americans likely will cheer that result. But that reaction is too callous for me to endorse.

Border security and the 11 million undocumented people living in the country are topics our nation should be addressing.

Let’s be honest. We depend on millions of undocumented workers to run the restaurants we dine in, produce the food we consume and construct the buildings we occupy.

It amazes me that some people find it morally acceptable to rely on their labor and then deny them basic medical care when they experience a workplace injury. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swans

Black Swans: Yes, It Can Happen Here

In this year's Black Swan coverage, we focus on two events: An Atlantic mega-tsunami which would wipe out the East Coast and a killer global pandemic.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 2 min read

One of the most difficult phrases to digest without becoming frustrated or judgmental is the oft-repeated, “I never thought that could happen here.”


Most painfully, we hear it time and time again in the aftermath of the mass school shootings that terrorize this country. Shocked parents and neighbors, viewing the carnage, voice that they can’t believe this happened in their neighborhood.

Not to be mean, but why couldn’t it happen in your neighborhood?

So it is with Black Swans, a phrase describing unforeseen events, made famous by the former trader and acerbic critic of academia Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We at Risk & Insurance® define these events in insurance terms by saying that they are highly infrequent, yet could cause massive damages. This year, for our annual Black Swan issue, we present two very different scenarios, both of which would leave mass devastation in their wake.

A Mega-Tsunami Is Coming; Can the East Coast Even Prepare?, written by staff writer Autumn Heisler, profiles an Atlantic mega-tsunami, which would wipe out lives and commerce along the East Coast.

On the topic of whether the volcanic island of La Palma, the most northwestern of the Canary Islands, could erupt, split and trigger an Atlantic mega-tsunami, scientists are divided.

Researchers Steven Ward, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Simon Day of University College London, say such a thing could happen. Other scientists say Day and Ward are dead wrong; it’s an impossibility.

One of the counter-arguments is backed up by the statement that there has never been an Atlantic mega-tsunami. It’s never happened before and thus, could never happen here. See exhibit “A” above, re: mass school shootings.

Viral Fear: How a Global Pandemic Kills an Economy, written by associate editor Katie Dwyer, depicts a killer global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

Tens of millions of people died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

Why it could happen again includes the fact that it’s happened before. The science on influenzas, which are constantly mutating, also supports just how dangerous a threat they pose to millions of people beyond the reach of antibiotics.

Should a mutating avian flu, for example, spread widely, we could see a 10 percent drop in GDP, mostly from non-physical business interruption.

As always here, the purpose is to do exactly what insurance modelers and underwriters do; no matter how massive the event, we create scenarios, quantify possible losses and discuss risk mitigation strategies. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]