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New York fails non-English speaking workers in comp hearings: Study

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Legal experts observed close to 500 New York State Workers Compensation Board hearings in New York City for eight months in 2016, finding that 18% of injured workers needed a language interpreter and that 42% of that number were not provided interpreters, according to a study released Thursday.

The report by the New York-based Workers’ Protection Coalition, “Compensation not Open to Interpretation: Language Access in New York State Workers’ Compensation Hearings,” was drafted by attorneys with the New York-based National Center for Law and Economic Justice and calls for greater services for those with limited English. 

“(Limited English proficiency) workers often work more dangerous, physically demanding, lower-paying jobs than workers who speak fluent English and are thus at greater risk of injury and loss of critical earnings,” states the report. 

The investigation also found that of the 51 hearings where interpretation services were provided, none of them were interpreted in their entirety and that “when the Board provides interpretation, it employs telephone interpretation services, which are inadequate because: interpreters are not familiar with Workers’ Compensation terminology; the telephone calls have poor audio quality; and interpreters make errors that are uncorrected in the record,” states the report. 

The Workers’ Protection Coalition consists of union officials, injured workers, worker groups, law firms and community-based organizations, according to the report. The observers were law students trained by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice and observed hearings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens — areas the report states are known for high immigrant populations. 

The group is calling for laws enforcing requirements for interpreters, interpretations of entire hearings, in-person interpreters, certified interpreters, and contracted interpreters, among the list of recommendations.