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Fight to Protect Florida's Undocumented Injured Workers

The last major overhaul of Florida's workers' compensation system took place in 2003. (Longislandwins/Flickr)
The last major overhaul of Florida's workers' compensation system took place in 2003. (Longislandwins/Flickr)
September 6, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida is supposed to provide workers' compensation benefits to all workers despite their legal status, but some employers and insurance companies have found a way to beat the system.

An investigation by NPR and ProPublica found that, of the 800 undocumented people charged with workers' compensation fraud for using fake Social Security numbers, more than 560 of them didn't even apply for workers compensation benefits.

Rich Templin, legislative and political director for the Florida AFL-CIO, says employers and insurance companies are taking advantage of a technicality in Florida's law.

"The insurance companies are using the law to not pay out any benefits,” he states. “That's a great system for an insurance company to be able to collect premiums and never have to pay anything out when insurance benefits are needed. And that is how these undocumented workers are being victimized."

The Florida workers' compensation law was amended in 2003 with sweeping changes – among them, making it a felony to use false identification to get a job.

Republican State Sen. Anitere Flores, the second highest-ranking member in the Senate, is continuing her call for changes to the law. She says legitimate injury claims shouldn't be denied just because a person is undocumented.

Templin says some companies hire undocumented workers and purposely hold the threat of prosecution or deportation over their heads to keep them from filing legitimate claims.

"The legislature needs to review the entire statute,” he stresses. “This problem that NPR and ProPublica have identified is only one. It's one of a myriad of terrible, unintended consequences that came from that law."

Lawmakers tried and failed to amend the Florida workers compensation law this year, but Templin says the AFL-CIO hopes to see a comprehensive rewrite of the law next year.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL