Should the Ohio BWC Be Collecting Citizenship Information on a First Report of Injury?

Two weeks ago I posted about a provision in Ohio’s BWC budget bill to provide workers’ compensation coverage for PTSD sustained by first responders in the line of duty.  This week I’ll address another provision in the bill, which would require injured workers to provide their citizenship status when applying for workers’ compensation benefits.

Specifically, the provision would amend Ohio’s First Report of Injury form to include a section for the worker to declare whether he or she is a citizen, a non-citizen working in the country legally, or is in the country working without documentation.  Filing false information would render the worker ineligible for benefits and subject him or her to prosecution for workers’ compensation fraud.

The sponsor of the legislation, State Rep. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, argues that the change would simply provide information about who is making use of workers’ compensation benefits.  Others however, such as State Rep. Michael Skindell of Lakewood, argue that the change would discourage injured workers from filing claims and indirectly shift health care costs associated with their injuries to the taxpayer instead of the employer.

In 2017 the BWC budget bill passed by the Ohio House would have prevented anyone not legally working in the country from filing a workers’ compensation claim or filing a civil lawsuit arising from a workplace injury.  That portion of the legislation was removed by the Ohio Senate before the bill was sent to the Governor for signature.

As I discussed in a post back in 2017, a nationwide poll of workers’ compensation professionals conducted by revealed that a majority (64.6%) felt that some benefits should be provided in spite of a person’s immigration status.  Other states currently differ widely as to undocumented workers’ participation in the workers’ compensation system.  In some states undocumented workers are entitled to medical benefits only, while in others they are entitled to both indemnity and medical benefits.  If permitted, the amount of indemnity compensation available also varies among the states, with some only providing partial indemnity payments to undocumented workers.

Wyoming and Idaho statutorily exclude undocumented workers from workers’ compensation coverage.  A look at the experience of those states casts a mixed picture on the argument that a coverage ban could potentially raise the injury rate among all workers by encouraging employers to hire undocumented workers and cut back on workplace safety.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 Wyoming had the second highest fatal injury rate in the country.  The rate in Idaho for the same year, however, was roughly one-third of Wyoming’s, which raises the question as to whether the injury rate in Wyoming is better accounted for by the type of industry in the state, as opposed to workers’ compensation laws.

The current provision in Ohio’s BWC budget bill seems more motivated by politics than substance.  It will be interesting to see how the Senate deals with the issue this time around.

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