The subject of illegal immigration and undocumented workers tends to be a particularly heated political issue, especially when the issue comes to federal and state benefits secured by these individuals.
Many states, including North Carolina, still recognize the rights of workers injured on the job to be at least minimally reimbursed for medical expenses by the employer’s insurer – regardless of the worker’s immigration status. This almost changed earlier this year with H.B. 369, which would have stripped these benefits from undocumented workers. The law would have exempted companies from paying workers’ compensation to workers who were undocumented where it could be shown employer didn’t know worker was here illegally at the time of hiring due to false representations by worker.
The measure was tucked into a bigger bill of criminal reforms, but was later removed amid stark opposition from health care lobbyists worried injured workers would show up en mass without coverage, resulting in more than $1 billion in additional charity care provided by state hospitals. Those costs are also absorbed by taxpayers. Others worried this would encourage companies to hire illegal workers and then turned a blind eye to misrepresented immigration status until it became beneficial to know otherwise.
The Pew Hispanic Center reports an estimated 325,000 immigrants live in North Carolina illegally, and this group represents approximately 5.4 percent of the labor force.
Our Winston-Salem workers’ compensation lawyers know other efforts continue to pare down worker rights, both in state legislatures and in the courts.
One recent example is the case of Campos v. Daisy Construction Co., recently weighed by the Delaware Supreme Court.
Here, worker was injured while on-the-job with defendant company. While he received total disability payments, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier requested an investigation of worker’s Social Security number. It was discovered worker was an undocumented resident. When the worker was unable to provide a valid Social Security number, he was fired.
Soon after, company hired a new doctor to re-evaluate the worker, and the new doctor indicated although still partially disabled, worker could perform light duty work with restrictions. Company then filed petition to terminate total disability benefit payments.
The state board granted company’s petition because the worker was capable of working and therefore not physically disabled. Plus, the board found, the company met its burden of proof by showing worker had not suffered a decreased earning capacity because worker was eligible for light-duty jobs at defendant company at pre-injury rate – so long as he could give them a valid Social Security number. Superior Court affirmed this decision, but the state supreme court reversed.
The Delaware Supreme Court found defendant company’s statement it would rehire worker if not for immigration status insufficient to demonstrate job availability because the job was not, in fact, available for worker.
Justices aptly noted that to rule otherwise would mean a company would have incentive to hire illegal workers and then avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits by “discovering” the immigration status, firing him and then offering to hire him again so long as he corrected the problem.
Not only would this policy run contrary to the plain reading of the state’s workers’ compensation act, the court found, it would run contrary to federal immigration law because it would provide incentive for employers to hire undocumented workers in order to reduce expenses for workplace safety, employee pay and insurance benefits.
If you have been injured at work in North Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Campos v. Daisy Construction Co., Nov. 13, 2014, Delaware Suprem Court
More Blog Entries
NC Industrial Commission Targets Scofflaw Firms With No Worker Injury Coverage, Nov. 13, 2014, Winston-Salem Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog