Decision on Workers’ Comp for Illegal Workers Left to States

By | March 21, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent refusal to hear a workers’ compensation insurance case that concerned an illegal immigrant who had sought coverage after a workplace accident means states are left to decide the issue of whether workers who entered the country illegally may benefit from workers’ compensation coverage.

Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), illegal immigrants are prohibited from working in the United States. The case declined by the court raises the question of whether the IRCA preempts state laws requiring businesses to have workers’ compensation coverage for employees.

All states, except Texas, require employers to maintain workers’ compensation. All states do not, however, agree on whether benefits such as coverage for medical treatment and wage replacement should extend to workers who are in the country illegally.

Antonio Garcia Rodriguez, an illegal immigrant, was injured while working on a roof at the University Louisiana-Lafayette. Rodriguez applied for workers’ compensation benefits from his direct employer, Integrity Contracting and its owner Jason Stanton. Stanton’s coverage at the time was not in effect so Rodriguez applied for benefits from Vaughan, which had contracted with Integrity for the roofing work.

Rodriguez sought benefits from Vaughan as a statutory, not a direct, employer. Vaughan acknowleged it had not directly hired Rodriguez and had not been aware of his illegal status. The company asserted in denying the claim that because federal law prohibits the hiring of illegal immigrants it also prevents such workers from receiving workers’ comp benefits.Ê

Vaughan’s argument was denied by the Louisiana trial court and in subsequent appeals.

In its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Vaughan Sheet Metal & Roofing LLC vs. Antonio Garcia Rodriguez, Vaughan stated that there is no general agreement among states as to whether the federal “prohibition against employing illegal aliens preempts an award of workers’ compensation benefits to an illegal alien.” The petition urged the court to resolve the issue in order to “provide uniformity and continuity to workers’ compensation systems nationwide.”

According to the Vaughan petition, courts in Louisiana and various other states “have held that workers’ compensation laws are applicable to illegal aliens because the respective legislatures did not specifically exclude them.”

Courts in other states, such as Virginia, Nevada and Michigan, have decided that an illegal immigrant worker, because he was not lawfully employed, was not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits as an employee. In addition to Louisiana, courts in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Georgia have ruled that the IRCA does not preempt state workers’ compensation laws in those jurisdictions.

The Vaughan petition asserted that without guidance by the U.S. Supreme Court, an “inconsistent and haphazard” approach to the issue by the states will continue. “Failure to address and resolve these inconsistencies and conflicts on a nationwide basis can only lead to future litigation in the remaining states that have not yet been presented with this issue but most certainly will be,” the petition stated.

Topics USA Workers' Compensation Louisiana

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Insurance Journal West March 21, 2011
March 21, 2011
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