Safety and OSHA News

Used fake name and ID to get job: Can she get workers’ comp?

Does using a fake name and ID prevent an injured employee from obtaining workers’ comp benefits? 

Leticia Mera-Hernandez worked as a custodian for Unified School District 233 (U.S.D. 233) in Kansas. She had been hired using her real name in 2000 and 2003. However, when she reapplied to the district in 2009, she used a false name, Hilda Reina, and provided false identification.

In March 2012, she injured her back moving furniture.

U.S.D. 233 initially paid for Mera-Hernandez’s medical treatment and she returned to work. However, she continued to have pain and sought additional treatment. When U.S.D. 233 denied further benefits, Mera-Hernandez filed a workers’ comp claim using her real name. After finding she used a false name, U.S.D. 233 fired her.

The school district argued Mera-Hernandez didn’t have a valid employment contract because she lied when she applied.

An administrative law judge found that, despite the false ID papers, an employment relationship did exist, and Mera-Hernandez should continue to receive comp benefits. The Kansas Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed the decision, as did a panel of the state Court of Appeals.

Recently, the Kansas Supreme Court reviewed the case.

The state’s highest court noted that under its workers’ comp law, the definition of employee is, “any person who has entered into the employment of or works under any contract or service or apprenticeship with an employer.” Mera-Hernandez did the work she was hired for, and U.S.D. 233 paid her for it. The court said that fit the comp law’s broad definition of an employee.

There is also precedent in Kansas for refusing to void an employment contract for misrepresentation during the hiring process.

In a previous case, an employee “made a number of misrepresentations” about previous injuries and his overall physical condition. The Kansas Supreme Court found the misrepresentations didn’t void the employment contract.

Also, even if the employment contract was made void, workers’ comp would still cover the injured employee as long as the misrepresentation didn’t lead to the injury.

Also in 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court refused to deny workers’ comp benefits based on immigration status.

That wasn’t the argument being made in Mera-Hernandez’s case. Nevertheless, for the benefit of employers, the court summed up the situation this way:

“The definition of ’employee’ does not require that the employment, contract of service, or apprenticeship involve a legal relationship or that the persons involved possess the requisite documentation to legally work within the United States.”

The Kansas Supreme Court upheld the ruling that Mera-Hernandez should receive workers’ comp medical coverage for her injuries.

As Safety News Alert readers know, this has been the case in many states where the issue of undocumented workers and comp benefits has been raised.

(Leticia Mera-Hernandez v. U.S.D. 233, Supreme Court of Kansas, No. 112,760, 3/24/17)

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