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Don’t Let A Constitutional Right for All California Workers Get Lost in Translation

Posted on 27 August 2013 by admin

Sally Herrera
The right of “all workers” in California to access a system “to cure and relieve” us of injuries sustained on the job is spelled out in our state constitution.

This guarantee is good for employers and for workers. There is no loophole based on the language we speak. We Californians speak more than 100 languages.

Yet a new rule imposed by the state Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) this month puts our constitutional right at risk.

Interpreter and VIAW Supporter
Sally Herrera, Fresno, California

The timing of the rule and the question it raises about whose interest the state is acting on could hardly be worse.
Please join me in working to defend our right and to delay enforcement of this dangerous new rule.

The new regulation imposes a requirement that only certified interpreters can take part in medical appointments for injured workers in the workers compensation system. As many as half of the estimated 9,000 to 10,000 daily medical appointments of injured workers in California require interpreters’ involvement. Yet only about 900 professionals in California currently meet the state’s certification mandate. Without interpreters, injured workers will miss or forgo life-sustaining treatment. Many could face potentially life-threatening miscommunication in trying to obtain care.

News of the new regulation emerged on August 15. While originally slated to take effect Oct. 1, the rule instead took effect on August 13 because of how officials in the DIR filed it. This gave the regulation sudden and very sharp teeth. Facing significant revenue losses, translation and interpreter agencies began laying off staff immediately.

In an August 20 meeting they sought with the director of the DIR, several interpreters outlined their concerns about the rule. These include an option for provisional allowance of interpreters that has proved impractical and leaves discretion with insurance carriers. Many carriers do not respond to even repeated inquiries and enforce a restriction on service only by their network of interpreters. In addition, medical translation forms used by some carriers are raising ethical concerns, since they request summaries of medical visits from interpreters that, in order to comply, could violate state and federal laws protecting patient privacy.

The compromising of interpreters’ and translators’ ethics is part of the effort to wedge them into a medical provider network (MPN). The role the state is playing to institute an MPN model on “language service providers” and the undue authority some insurance carriers exercise under this scheme has led some of us to ask whether the state and insurers may be colluding in ways that go outside the law.

At the DIR meeting, the director expressed understanding of interpreters’ concerns and said they had made the case for “a grace period” for the new rules’ taking effect.

But the agency has rejected any delay in the rule. Now we need action by the legislature that will have the force of law. That is why I urge you to join me and dozens of translators and interpreters statewide in raising the funds needed to support emergency legislation to delay this rule.

Please contribute to the legislative push for translators and interpreters and injured workers.

Make a donation online at:

Or send a contribution to:

Voters Injured At Work, 714 W. Olympic Blvd., 4th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90015.


The huge expansion of healthcare coverage now under way in California depends on fluent communication between healthcare providers and residents in the languages we understand. To drive language professionals out of business or out of state at the very time when Californians rely on us as a bridge to better healthcare outcomes, cost savings, and a more efficient system is just plain wrong.

Please stand with me and Voters Injured At Work and support our fight to defend translators and all Californians’ constitutional right.

1 Comments For This Post

  1. Helen Eby Says:

    Thank you for taking this concern to the Legislature. In my medical interpreting appointments I have dealt with the issues on those forms repeatedly. My response is always to write: HIPPA protected information. Information is available from the medical staff as needed.

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