Dear Steward of California’s Workers Compensation System:
We write to express our profound concern with draft language to implement SB 863 that would impose a requirement regarding immigration status on eligibility for workers compensation benefits.
The Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB) voucher is a crucial benefit for thousands of California injured workers each month. It is such a valuable lifeline in part because it provides relatively swift access to key support services that facilitate injured workers’ resilience, wellbeing, and workforce reentry, at their own initiative.
Any effort to infringe on California workers’ rights under our state constitution to cure and relief of the effects of their work-related injury—or to exclude them altogether from the scope of this guarantee—harms injured workers and undermines our state’s hard-won standard of rewarding work and equal protection under law.
The proposed regulation is a needless erosion of this standard, in that no binding legal precedent or prevailing evidence dictates or disposes any such policy. To the contrary, the proposed regulation creates a loophole in workers compensation enforcement and California law and an incentive for unscrupulous behavior by employers in the state that would have the effect of rewarding exploitative behavior in our workforce and punishing injured workers at precisely the most vulnerable moment of their lives. Such a regulation would create a malignant precedent of its own, with far-reaching negative implications in state law and society.
Indeed, the proposal would invite employers to adopt a posture of willful ignorance regarding the documentation status of workers and to invoke affirmative knowledge of a potentially disqualifying status by an injured worker at the point of eligibility for relief.
California is one of several states whose workers compensation system includes no conditions regarding immigration status. We call upon you to maintain this distinction. It is worth noting that the supreme court of even such states as Nebraska held recently that undocumented workers are entitled to full workers compensation coverage. It would indeed be a sad irony for California to initiate an historic retreat from the non-conditionality of its workers compensation system at precisely the moment when its progress has provided an example of logic and lawful inclusivity for others.
In conclusion, we call upon you to step up incentives for employers’ compliance with workers compensation coverage and documentation requirements in hiring. And on behalf of our members and the nearly half a million Californians injured on the job each year, we call upon you to abandon any language that would have the effect of imposing any requirement related to immigration status on eligibility for benefits under our state’s workers compensation policies.