When Is an Interpreter a Treatment Expense? (Labor Code 4600)

The workers’ compensation system provides an essential safety net for those employees who are injured in the course and scope of their employment.  There are many different parts of the workers’ compensation system.  Lawyers, doctors, judges, and employers are all part of the system.  If you own or even help run an interpreter business, you are likely well aware that interpreters are also an essential piece of the workers’ compensation structure.  Without interpreters, it would not be possible to ascertain injuries and move forward with cases for those employees who do not have a functional grasp on the English language.  There are many laws and rules surrounding interpreter services and collection of interpreter invoices.  If you are involved in interpreter services with workers’ compensation, you should understand the potential ramifications of California Labor Code 4600.

Under the workers’ compensation provisions laid out in the California labor code, employers are required to pay for certain types of expenses.  California labor code 460 provides that certain medical treatment expenses are to be paid by the injured employee’s employer.  Subsection (a) states that certain medical treatment and supplies that are “reasonably required” to cure or relieve the illness are to be provided by the employer.  Subsection (f) also states that at the request of an employer, the insurer, the administrative director, the appeals board, or an administrative judge, an employee who submits to an examination will receive interpreter services if the employee does not proficiently speak English.  Similarly, if the employee cannot proficiently speak English and accordingly cannot effectively communicate with the treating physician, the employer is obligated to pay for interpreter services.

Despite the seemingly clear language, it was contentious among attorneys, insurance providers, interpreters, and the courts, when interpreter services qualify as a treatment expense.  This has now been addressed in a couple of cases.  One such case is Jose Guitron v. Santa Fe Extruders; and State Compensation Insurance Fund, the Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board determined that interpreting services were reasonably required to cure or relieve the effects of the injured employee’s industrial injury.  Specifically, the court held that under 4600, the employer has an obligation to provide medical treatment to cure or relive the effects of the injury, and this also encompasses an employer’s responsibility to pay for interpreter services used during medical treatment appointments for an injured worker who is unable to speak, understand, or communicate in English.  The court also held that in order to recover the charges for the interpreter services, the lien claimant has the burden of proving that the interpreter services that were provided were reasonably required, that the services were actually provided, the interpreter was properly qualified to provide the services, and that the fees that were charged were reasonable.  “Reasonably required” treatment liability also hinges on the existence of an industrial injury.  Before you provide services for these medical appointments, you need to think about what you may have to later prove in court and decide from there whether you are in a position to provide the services requested.  You should also consider the inherent expense of filing multiple liens on cases to secure recovery of treatment services.

Contact us today for a consultation at 714-860-7688.  We will talk about your interpreter business and how we can help collect your interpreter invoices, free of cost to you and your business.

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