The Impact of Cultural Differences on Workers’ Compensation Through the Lens of a Chinese American

The impact of cultural differences on the workers’ compensation system have not been fully researched or investigated.  In some cultures, particularly Asian cultures, filing a claim may not be considered culturally acceptable.  In some countries in Asia, loyalty to one’s employer is highly valued—filing a WC claim can be construed as a violation of that duty of loyalty, and is therefore discouraged.  Confucian-based values embedded in Chinese culture such as harmony in interpersonal relationships may dissuade one from pursing a WC claim for fear of conflict.  The concept of “face” or dignity is very important in Chinese culture.  Face can be given, taken away, earned or lost on the basis of one’s actions or behavior, and one individual’s wrongdoing can result in an entire family’s loss of face.  Loss of face may deter one from filing a WC claim because filing a claim can be perceived by others as a wrongful act.

The traditional Chinese approach to health and illness focuses on the balance between the body, mind, and spirit, expressed as yin and yang.  Some Chinese believe that physical illness stems simply from an imbalance of yin and yang, and activities associated with one’s employment would not be sufficient causative of a disease.  Among many Asians, emotional distress is seen as the result of malingering bad thoughts, a lack of will power, and personality weakness; thus, self control and solving one’s own problems are culturally valued over seeking help or treatment for mental disorders.  Mental illness stigma is an important issue in Chinese communities.  The stigma causes public fear and perceptions of dangerousness towards those with mental illness, as well as shame and fear of rejection for patients and their families.  As a result, mental illness becomes a highly guarded secret in Chinese communities in order to protect both the individual’s and the family’s standing in society, or to save “face.”  Chinese workers are therefore unlikely to pursue mental disorder claims.

When dealing with a claimant of a minority group, it is important to keep in mind that communication styles vary from culture to culture.  For example, eye contact is generally expected in Western culture to show a person’s interest and engagement in a conversation.  To the contrary, in countries such as China and Japan, eye contact is often considered inappropriate because it conveys disrespect.  Each country has different dialects, and not all dialects are mutually intelligible.  To avoid dialectal discordance, it is important to know the region of the claimant’s birthplace before requesting an interpreter.  (For example, there are roughly seven large groups of Chinese dialects with variations within each group.)

At the upcoming Bench Bar Forum, attorney Lourdes Sanchez will also discuss the many barriers faced by Latino workers in the current Oregon workers’ compensation scheme.


Recommended Reading:

  • WonPat-Borja, A. J., Yang, L. H., Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (2012). Eugenics, genetics, and mental illness stigma in Chinese Americans. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 47, 145-156. doi: 10.1007/s00127-010-0319-7
  • Kung, W. W. (2004). Cultural and Practical Barriers to Seeking Mental Health Treatment for Chinese Americans. Journal of Community Psychology, 32(1), 27-43. doi: 10.1002/jcop.10077[1][1]
  • Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A.M.B, Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271[2][2]


[1][1] The first two articles discuss the mental illness stigma in Asian culture.

[2][2] This article explains the different forms of racial microaggressions and focuses on the impact of racial microaggressions on mental health counseling/therapy.