An employee who had provided documents to show that he could work in the U.S. was injured on the job. After he applied for workers’ comp, it was revealed the documents were fakes. Would he still receive benefits?
Reiman Corp. in Wyoming hired Adalberto Gonzalez in April 2007 and then rehired him in 2008.
While filling out Form I-9 in 2007, Gonzalez presented a Social Security card and a permanent resident card.
Reiman’s superintendent, Dave Brown, didn’t make copies of those documents because the work site didn’t have electricity.
At some point in 2007, Gonzalez was let go, but he was rehired in April 2008. Another Reiman superintendent, Leo Alvarado, hired Gonzalez this time. Reiman had a policy that allowed the rehire of former employees without completion of hiring documents, including the I-9, if the employer was hired within six months of his last employment with the company.
Gonzalez showed Alvarado a pay stub from his previous employment with Reiman, and the superintendent didn’t require any other documentation.
A later audit of Reiman’s office found several employee I-9s were missing. In May 2010, Alvarado had Gonzalez fill out a new I-9, and Gonzalez presented the same documents as in 2007.
Only one problem: The documents were fake. Neither Brown nor Alvarado noticed that the documents were fake when they saw them.
In 2011, Gonzalez was injured on the job. He was working on a highway bridge when a wood plank on which he was seated broke. He fell about 20 feet to the concrete below and suffered serious injuries to his face, teeth, right hand and right arm.
The Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Division denied benefits to Gonzalez because the employee hadn’t submitted documentation of his residency and authority to work in the U.S.
Both sides appealed, and the Office of Administrative Hearings concluded that Reiman reasonably believed Gonzalez was authorized to work in the U.S. Therefore, he was an employee and entitled to workers’ comp benefits. At this point, Reiman dropped its appeals in the case.
Gonzalez filed an appeal to a district court which affirmed the OAH ruling. Gonzalez then took his case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
What the law says
In its recently released opinion on this case, the Wyoming Supreme Court noted that the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act includes in its definition of an employee:
” … and aliens whom the employer reasonably believes, at the date of hire and the date of injury based upon documentation in the employer’s possession, to be authorized to work by the United States department of justice, office of citizenship and immigration services.”
Gonzalez argued that for Reiman to reasonably believe he was authorized to work in the U.S., his employer must have in its possession all documentation required by the federal Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The OAH and district court both rejected this interpretation of the law, and the Wyoming Supreme Court did, too.
The state’s highest court said that nowhere in its workers’ comp law did it require the federal documentation.
So the court affirmed the OAH finding that Gonzalez was an employee as defined by the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Act, and he should receive benefits.
What do you think about this decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Adalberto Gonzalez v. Reiman Corp., Supreme Court of Wyoming, No. S-15-0016, 10/6/15)