Many workers in North Carolina speak very little English or none at all. Some workers only know the English words they need in order to do their jobs. A lack of English proficiency can present some special challenges when these workers get injured on the job in NC. A properly qualified foreign language interpreter can help smooth the way at NC Industrial Commission proceedings. But it is important to understand the proper role of interpreters in NC workers’ compensation claims as well as how to get an interpreter assigned and who pays for his or her services.
Interpreters at NC Workers’ Comp Hearings
When a person who does not speak English is called to testify at a hearing before the Industrial Commission, the Commission will appoint a qualified foreign language interpreter. The person who requires the interpreter or the party calling that person to testify should notify the North Carolina Industrial Commission and the opposing party at least twenty-one days before the hearing. The notice should identify the language to be interpreted. Upon receipt of the notice the employer or the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company should hire a qualified foreign language interpreter to attend the hearing.
The interpreter must not be associated with any party and must have no interest in the claim. Qualified foreign language interpreters in North Carolina must abide by the Code of Conduct and Ethics of Foreign Language Interpreters and Translators. Interpreters are not allowed to provide personal commentary or observations. Interpreters must simply “interpret, as word for word as is practicable, without editing, commenting, or summarizing, testimony or other communications.” In most cases interpreters in NC Workers’ Compensation claims who provide services at an Industrial Commission hearing will be paid by the employer or the employers’ workers’ compensation insurance company.
Interpreters at NC Workers’ Comp Mediations
A similar process is followed when a party requires the services of an interpreter at the mediation of a NC Workers’ Compensation claim. When an interpreter is required at mediation, the party requiring interpreter services should notify the mediator, the Industrial Commission and the opposing party at least twenty-one days prior to mediation. The notice should identify the language that is to be interpreted. A party requesting a foreign language interpreter generally bears the cost of the interpreter. However if the mediator determines that an interpreter is necessary and notifies the parties of the need for an interpreter then the parties will share the cost. Again, the interpreter must be independent and have no interest in the claim and must abide by the Code of Conduct and Ethics of Foreign Language Interpreters and Translators.
Interpreters at Vocational and Medical Appointment
When interpreters are required for vocational rehabilitation or for medical appointments the North Carolina Industrial Commission has made it clear that the exclusive role of the interpreter remains to “interpret, word for word, without editing, commenting or summarizing, what is said between the injured worker and the specific (medical or vocational) provider with whom the worker is meeting.” Translators and interpreters in NC Workers’ Compensation claims should not prepare reports that include their personal observations of the injured worker, or summarizing or commenting on conversations between an injured worker and his or her medical or vocational provider.
Workers’ compensation claims can be confusing enough without language challenges. Be sure to arrange for a qualified interpreter to assist you with your NC workers’ comp mediation or trial.
Note that an interpreter translates speech, while a translator translates the written word.
If you have questions or concerns about the role of foreign language interpreters in your workers’ compensation case in North Carolina please call or email for your free consultation with Board Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialist Kevin Bunn. Kevin is a North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorney and has represented injured NC workers for more than twenty-five years.