Safety and OSHA News

Did undocumented employee face retaliation for workers’ comp claim?

An undocumented immigrant was placed on unpaid leave after filing a workers’ comp claim. The worker sued, claiming placing him on leave was retaliation for filing the claim. What did the court say? 

Anibal Sanchez began working for Dahlke Trailer Sales in February 2005, even though he’s not authorized to work in the U.S. He immigrated to the states in December 1998.

Sanchez injured his leg, neck and back at work in 2013 while using a sandblaster, and he filed a workers’ comp claim two months later. A day after Sanchez’s deposition testimony, the Minnesota company placed him on indefinite, unpaid leave and compelled him to sign a document that said:

“Because you voluntarily told us that the social security card documentation you provided us was not good and that you are not eligible to work in the United States at this time, we are sending you home on an unpaid leave of absence. Once you provide us with legitimate paperwork showing you can legally work in the United States, you can come back to work at Dahlke Trailer Sales.

Sanchez filed a complaint alleging retaliatory discharge in violation of Minnesota’s Workers’ Compensation Act. He claimed Dahlke was aware of his immigration status several years before his injury, and it retaliated against him for filing a workers’ comp claim.

The district court ruled against Sanchez, and the worker appealed.

They knew he was undocumented

The Court of Appeals of Minnesota noted that the Immigration Reform Control Act (IRCA) doesn’t prohibit an undocumented worker from receiving compensation benefits.

Dahlke argued continuing to employ Sanchez after discovering he was undocumented would violate federal law. But the appeals court said denying unauthorized workers benefits would actually give employers incentive to hire them because it could lower comp costs.

To win the case, Sanchez had to prove:

  1. he engaged in statutorily protected conduct
  2. he suffered adverse employment action by the employer, and
  3. the existence of a casual connection between the two.

It was undisputed that Sanchez engaged in protected conduct by filing a workers’ comp claim. But he and Dahlke argued the second two points.

The district court said Sanchez didn’t suffer adverse employment action when placed on unpaid leave because he could return to work once he provided legal immigration papers.

The appeals court didn’t buy this argument.

It said indefinite and unpaid leave resulted in a loss of salary and benefits. That reduction in salary was a “material change in the terms and conditions” of employment. Therefore, the unpaid leave was an adverse employment action.

The appeals court also said there was an issue of material fact regarding Dahlke’s awareness of Sanchez’s immigration status before he filed the comp claim.

Sanchez presented evidence that, two years before the injury, Dahlke asked him if he was “illegal,” and Sanchez admitted he wasn’t authorized to work in the U.S. Dahlke also received annual notices from the Social Security Administration that Sanchez’s social security number didn’t match his name.

The evidence also suggested Sanchez’s relationship with his employer didn’t begin to deteriorate until he filed the workers’ comp claim.

Shortly after hiring an attorney, Dahlke’s owner told Sanchez, “I don’t like attorneys and I didn’t want you to get an attorney. Our bridge is broken.”

Dahlke then placed Sanchez on unpaid leave just a day after giving his deposition testimony in support of his claim.

The appeals court said this sequence of events led them to believe there was a causal connection between Sanchez filing the comp claim and being placed on unpaid leave.

The appeals court ruled in favor of Sanchez and reversed and remanded the district court’s decision.

What do you think of this case? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Cite: Sanchez v. Dahlke Trailer Sales, Inc., Court of Appeals of Minnesota, A15-1183, 6/6/16.

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  1. Dr. C T Rezner says:

    The employer should have canned him the minute they knew he was illegal. It is a federal crime to hire and pay illegals. The appeals court ruled correctly because the employer knew he was illegal and only took action after he was injured and went to court. Timely is always the key to success.

  2. Robert Inouye says:

    I agree with Dr. C.T. Rezner, the employer should have terminated employment at the time they found out he was an undocumented worker. Once they acknowledged his status and continued to employ him then they should be held liable for an injury that occurred while employed with them.

  3. Yes the employer should have let him go after finding out he could not work in U.S.
    HE is illegal folks! He should not receive any thing. Let us take more illegals in and give them all the binifits that legalized folks have. GIVE ME A BREAK!!

    • Not a fan of Paula's anymore.. says:

      Wait a minute Larry. Benefits only come into play when the person injured is an employee. If the company employs illegal immigrants, the illegal immigrants is entitled to what other employees are entitled to. Give you a break? Why are you giving the criminal employer a break?

  4. Sanchez was an undocumented alien with NO right to work period. Therefore NO benefits period. Should be sent back to his country at his expense period.
    Dahike is not innocent, should be fined for continuing to employ this worker after notified by Social Security and certainly after worker admitted to being illegal.
    The Justice that gave him benefits should be removed from the bench.
    I have been to Mexico many times, stayed as much as 6 months at a time. Never once did I receive any kind of a benefit from that country but to the contrary I contributed to the community I lived in. Rent, Food, Utilities etc.
    Enough of the free loaders!

    • Not a fan of Paula's anymore.. says:

      He may have had no right to work, but the company employed him anyway. That means they made him an employee. They owe him a paycheck and any employee benefits that other employees get. That is the problem with these criminal greedy self centered employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. He’s not freeloading if he’s working and getting a paycheck. They weren’t even paying him under the table which is why when they submitted his social security taxes, the social security admin. informed the employer that there was a problem. In this case Jerry, this employee wasn’t freeloading at all.

  5. Not a fan of Paula's anymore.. says:

    I agree with the court. Dahlke created the entire mess. They knew he was undocumented. They knew he wasn’t eligible for employment. They hired him anyway. They kept him on staff anyway. He gets injured, then they want to pull the “you aren’t eligible for employment” card?
    Too late and too bad for Dahlke. What I want to know is what fines or repercussions has Dahlke faced for knowingly hiring undocumented workers.

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