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Work comp laws protect guest workers, a vital part of Colorado's agricultural industry

As guest workers begin to come back to Eastern Colorado to help our farmers, it's a good time for a reminder: temporary and seasonal agricultural workers are eligible for workers' compensation. This is true even if they are here on a temporary H-2A classification or are undocumented.

"We need guest workers"

So goes the plea of many Colorado farmers who face a labor shortage. Farmers have trouble competing with the wages of similar labor-intensive industries such as the construction industry. That means fewer applicants, fewer hires and longer hours.

Farm owners often look to fill the gaps in their workforces by hiring temporary workers from Mexico and other nearby countries. While this is a promising solution for both the farmers and the workers, some fear that seasonal workers are more at risk of injury (and even death) than others. The concern is that some migrant workers do not know their rights, or are afraid of speaking up, and will continue to work even after they have suffered significant injuries on the job.

A dangerous job

The farm industry isn't inherently dangerous, but combine long hours with high temperatures, strong chemicals and dangerous equipment and you have a recipe for disaster. Fatalities in the U.S. agricultural industry have risen in recent years, accounting for 180 deaths in 2015 and hundreds more injuries.

Many of the injuries to guest workers go unreported. Guest workers are often afraid they will lose their classification or end up in immigration court for bringing a legal claim. Others have been threatened by their employers and do not feel safe filing a workers' compensation claim. The truth is that employers must carry workers' compensation insurance for all workers, no matter their status, and any employer who threatens retaliation for filing a claim is breaking the law.

In today's agricultural climate, we fear the labor shortage could lead to more injuries, and many more injuries could go unreported. It's vital that we support the agricultural industry, but also the workers in it. If you know a guest worker who has been injured on the job, encourage them to speak up.

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