Some employers hire workers whose resident status and right to work in the U.S. is in question do so because they assume the worker will be far less likely to file a workers’ compensation claim in the event of an injury.
They rely on the fact that these workers may have few other options and might be intimidated into not filing a claim. These employees also tend to be at higher risk for injury because employers will often sidestep worker safety laws and procedures where they are concerned.
But the fact is, companies who hire non-legal workers assume the responsibility for those workers’ injuries. Courts have held time and again companies cannot skirt their duty to cover work-related injuries on the basis of a worker’s resident status.
One of the most recent such cases is that of L & L Enterprises v. Arellano, before the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Here, the company challenged a district court order awarding workers’ compensation benefits, even though he was later found to be an illegal resident, not authorized to work in the U.S. The company argued the worker was not an “employee” under the state law definition because he fraudulently obtained employment by providing false documentation. However, the state supreme court affirmed the district court order, finding it was correct to award the worker benefits.
According to court records, plaintiff sought employment with defendant company, which required him to provide a Form I-9 (indicating authorization of U.S. employment), plus two forms of personal identification. Plaintiff filled out the I-9 and attested under penalty of perjury he was a citizen or national and offered a New Mexico driver’s license and social security number.
He was hired and worked for four months before sustaining a work-related injury to his lower back. He filed a workers’ compensation claim, which was denied by the commission because it hadn’t received requested medical documentation, the incident didn’t meet the definition of an injury per state statutes and lastly, worker had not provided information requested to prove proof of residency or authorization to work in the U.S.
On appeal, worker conceded the Social Security card he produced was a fake and the I-9 information he provided was false and he wasn’t sure if he had permission to work in the U.S. The hearing examiner held that while worker had met the proof burden to establish his back injury occurred during the course and scope of employment, his failure to prove he was an “employee” meant that benefits were denied. The examiner stated he found it “hard to believe” the state legislature intended for coverage to be provided when fraud had been committed.
Worker appealed to the district court, which reversed, indicating denial of benefits was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with state law. For workers’ compensation purposes, the court found, the worker was in fact an “employee.”
The state supreme court affirmed, rejecting a claim by employer that worker’s fraudulent conduct is an independent basis on which to deprive him of benefits.
If you have been injured at work in Rock Hill, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
L & L Enterprises v. Arellano, Feb. 18, 2015, Wyoming Supreme Court
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Nicholson v. SC Dept. of Social Services – SC Supreme Court Weighs Work Falls, Feb. 12, 2015, Rock Hill Work Injury Lawyer Blog