James F. Mahoney, Attorney

Workers Comp Claims by Undocumented Workers

The U.S. Supreme Court defers to states' rights on Workers’ Compensation by
not deciding an equal protection/due process claim of undocumented workers

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We all now know that federal law expressly prohibits undocumented workers from employment in the United States. That wasn't disputed in the case.

What was not so certain, however, was whether under state Work Comp laws those same undocumented workers could collect Compensation benefits if they were hurt on the job.

It’s official then…depends on what state hears the claim.

The Court passed on this opportunity to decide the dispute, which would have settled the conflict among the states.

State courts in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Minnesota have issued rulings saying that undocumented workers hurt on the job are entitled to collect benefits claims because the state laws do not expressly preclude them from doing so.

Judges in other states including Virginia, Michigan and Nevada have tossed similar claims, citing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 as a prohibition against collecting benefits for work the individuals should never have been allowed to perform.

The Supreme Court, as is its custom, did not explain why it declined to hear the case. But it appears the Court punted on the issue despite having conflicting rulings from state courts, which directly involved Constitutional issues of Due Process and Equal Protection.

So, with jurisdiction almost always “in play” in Work Comp claims, this remains another subset of claims that may cost money based on the geographic lottery.

Neither insurers nor Work Comp judges truly understand the trucking industry, its hiring and dispatching operations, so you need to take steps to help keep your claims in the “better” or “less expensive” jurisdictions. We’re not just talking undocumented workers. Insurers these days are simply going through the reflexive filings and reacting to claims, while working the cash float they get from your premium, so don’t depend on them for help.