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Legal Translation Services for Language Accommodation in Workplace

Company Ordered to Pay $20,000 in Medical Bills in Worker’s Compensation Claim for Minor Muscle Strain Treated as a Heart Attack Due to Lack of an Interpreter.
And while it is important to accommodate foreign language speakers in the workplace this case contains important lessons for the attorneys regarding the use of professional legal translators and interpreters to shield the employer from liability in similar cases.

Professional legal translation services play an important role in accommodating foreign language speakers in the workplace and in defending worker’s compensation claims. As discussed below, one company was ordered to pay significant medical expenses when an employee who could not communicate in English suffered a minor injury but could not immediately communicate with emergency medical personnel and hospital staff about the nature of his injury due to the unavailability of an interpreter.
In Gonzalez v. Butterball, LLC, et al., 2015 Mo. App. LEXIS 139 (Feb. 11, 2015), Butterball and its insurer were ordered to pay a worker who suffered a chest muscle strain close to $20,000 in medical expenses. The worker, a U.S. citizen who could not read, write, or communicate effectively in English, felt a pull in his chest while lifting an 80 pound turkey. He immediately notified his supervisor and was taken to his employer’s infirmary and eventually transferred to a local hospital by ambulance.
At the hospital, Gonzalez was unable to communicate to medical personnel the manner in which he was injured or the symptoms he was experiencing because an interpreter was not immediately available. As such, Gonzalez was evaluated and treated for a possible heart attack and underwent a battery of expensive tests.
Once an interpreter became available, Gonzalez explained that he suffered chest pain after picking up a large turkey. Gonzalez was eventually diagnosed with chest and rib pain and given a prescription for Vicodin after the test results were normal. He returned to work without missing any time and did not suffer any further complications or incur any additional medical expenses.
Butterball, however, refused to pay for any of his medical bills. After the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission had ordered them paid, Butterball appealed. On appeal, the court held that it was not unreasonable for medical personnel to have conducted tests to exclude a potential heart attack when told, without the services of an interpreter, that Gonzales was suffering from chest pain. The court also noted that representatives of Butterball were aware of the nature of Gonzales’ injury at the time he was taken to the hospital and had “opportunity to assist emergency and medical personnel in determining and clarifying the cause and severity of Gonzales’s injury.”
This worker’s compensation case serves as a reminder about the importance of accommodating foreign language speakers in the workplace. Here are some tips for employers with foreign language speaking employees to consider:
1. Hire a professional legal document translation company to have your company handbooks, policies, and procedures manuals translated into the foreign language or languages spoken by your employees to avoid confusion or misunderstandings about their duties and expectations.
2. Hire court-certified interpreters to assist your company with training sessions, evaluations, seminars and other important company-sponsored events to ensure that employees who speak a foreign language are able to participate in and understand the company’s culture and how they can succeed.
3. Hire court-certified interpreters to assist with internal investigations so that foreign-language speaking employees can contribute to the investigation.
4. In the event a foreign-language speaking employee files a worker’s compensation claim, consider hiring a certified interpreter to assist during regular medical office visits and at the independent medical examination (IME). This will help prevent misunderstandings with medical personnel which, as demonstrated in the case above, can be costly.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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