State-by-state, appeals courts across the country are having to deal with this question: Does workers’ comp extend to undocumented workers? In this recent case, lawyers arguing for the company focused on one particular aspect to make their case against benefits.
Ricardo Moyera suffered injuries when a forklift ran over his right foot at Quality Pork International (QPI) in Nebraska.
The forklift broke several bones in the top of his foot.
Moyera was placed on light duty until he reached maximum medical recovery.
Moyera continued to suffer pain. A rehabilitation consultant concluded he didn’t have transferable skills that would qualify him for sedentary jobs in the Omaha job market. Because of his permanent restrictions — a 20% whole body impairment — and his inability to speak English, she concluded he wasn’t employable and he experienced a 100% permanent loss of earning capacity.
When it became apparent he would continue to have some impairment — his foot would swell if he had to stand on it for too long — QPI’s personnel manager audited Moyera’s employment files and determined he didn’t have proper immigration documents. In fact, at QPI, Moyera had been known by another name: David Gutierrez.
QPI fired Moyera after he couldn’t produce the required paperwork.
At a hearing, a judge awarded Moyera future medical care benefits for treatment of his injury. QPI appealed, but a review panel agreed with the judge.
Recently, the case went to the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Temporary vs. permanent benefits
In a previous case, a Nebraska court had ruled that an illegal alien was able to collect temporary total disability benefits through workers’ comp.
But QPI said Moyera’s case was different because he was seeking permanent disability benefits. The company said temporary benefits are limited to an employee’s healing period.
QPI said benefits for permanent loss of earning power should be barred because Moyera couldn’t legally get a job in the U.S. because he was an undocumented worker. Temporary benefits focus on medical costs. Permanent benefits are also for wage replacement.
Interesting argument, but as has been happening from state to state, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled an undocumented worker is eligible for workers’ comp. Among the observations made by the court in its ruling:
- “Even if undocumented employees cannot legally work in the United States, they could have worked elsewhere but for their work-related injury.”
- “Excluding undocumented workers from receiving disability benefits creates a financial incentive for employers to continue hiring them.”
- “Allowing an employer to escape liability for the work-related injuries that its undocumented employees sustain gives the employer an unfair advantage relative to competitors who follow the law.”
- “Employers bear the costs of their employees’ work-related injuries because they are in the best position to avoid the risk of loss by improving workplace safety. We agree that public policy weighs against allowing employers to avoid the costs of their workplace hazards.”
So Nebraska joins other states where the highest courts have ruled undocumented workers aren’t an exception when it comes to workers’ comp.
What do you think about the ruling? Let us know in the comments below.
(Moyera v. Quality Pork International, Nebraska Supreme Court, No. S-12-208, 1/4/13)