Lost in Translation: Proposed Changes to Interpretation for Non-English Speaking Claimants

The Workers’ Protection Coalition released a study that concludes claimants who need English language translation are not being sufficiently serviced by the current procedures of the New York Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). Flaws in these procedures could expose claims to capricious appeals by claimant’s counsel.

Over the course of seven months, the Workers’ Protection Coalition observed approximately 500 hearings throughout New York City. The results found that 88 hearings had a claimant who required interpretive services. Of those 88, at least nine different languages were spoken as the primary language of the claimant. The most regular need was for Spanish, which was the primary language of 72 of the claimants.

According to the study, the WCB “did not provide any interpretation services for 37 of the 88 hearings where the claimant required interpretation.”

Of the 51 hearings that had interpretive services provided, all services were provided by telephone. This leads to three issues raised in the study: First, the certification standards of the call-in translation service is well below that of a New York State court reporter; second, given the lack of familiarity with workers’ compensation law, there were many issues with trying to translate the legal terminology being used; and finally, the interpretation does not begin until the call occurs, which does not cover the whole hearing.

Based on the results of this study, the Workers’ Protection Coalition has proposed some changes to the system. Some of these proposed changes could happen this year. The primary proposal is for the codification of Executive Order 26 in the Workers’ Compensation Law, which requires state agencies to provide interpretation services in instances such as WCB hearings. Assembly Bill A6043 has been introduced in an effort to accomplish this goal. Additionally, the study calls on the WCB to provide services to all claimants who are not English language proficient, transition back to in-person translators, and to interpret the entirety of every hearing when these services are needed.

Some of these proposals could be put in place immediately, while others would take significant time and resources. We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring these services and any changes in order to protect against appeals brought by claimants or claimant’s counsel regarding the sufficiency of the interpretive services provided at WCB hearings.


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