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Complaint Spurs Washington To Help Immigrants Injured at Work

People who struggle with English will have an easier time getting help if they’re injured on the job in Washington state.

That’s because of a federal agreement to settle a complaint targeting Washington’s system for workers’ compensation.

Census figures show more than 13 percent of people living in this state were born in another country.

Attorney Patrick Pleas said immigrants with limited English often struggled with compensation forms.

“For a long time there was a tag line on notices,” Pleas said. “They would be in English and say, 'If you need interpretive services in another language, you may call this number.' Well, that was in English."

Pleas said many immigrants missed that message that language help was available – for free. So some would turn to their kids for help or pay an interpreter.

“When you’re relying on children or you’re relying on paying someone to help you, you get really varied responses and assistance,” he said.

As a result, Pleas said, many immigrants missed out on benefits.

Pleas is with the Northwest Justice Project. The group filed a federal complaint in 2011 about the lack of language access in the workers' compensation program provided by the state Department of Labor and Industries.

An agreement was announced this week, calling for some significant changes.

Under the plan, the state will now keep track of the worker’s language preference when they file a claim. Then continue to provide key communication in that language.

More forms will also be translated to various languages now that the state is tracking which ones are most requested.

Year started with KUOW: 2006