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Ruling Allows Comp Benefits for Undocumented Immigrant

December 16, 2008
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Related Topics: Workers' Compensation, Future Workplace, Compensation, Latest News
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Employers can’t deny permanent total disability benefits for illegal immigrants on the basis that their immigration status would prevent them working in the U.S. legally, a state appeals court ruled.

In the ruling Friday, December 12, Illinois’ 1st Judicial District Appellate Court also said it agreed with appeals courts across several other states that “have almost uniformly held” that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 does not preclude awarding workers’ comp benefits to illegal immigrants.

The case of Economy Packing Co. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission dealt with Ramona Navarro, a Mexican national who slipped and injured herself in May 2002 while working on an assembly line, court records state.

An arbitrator awarded her temporary total disability benefits of $147 per week for 60 weeks and permanent total disability benefits of $371 per week for life. The arbitrator also ruled Navarro to be an “odd-lot” worker, meaning she is permanently and totally disabled and her limited skills would prevent her from finding future work.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and a trial court agreed, and Economy appealed. The employer argued that “undocumented aliens” are always unemployable because of immigration law regardless of their physical capabilities.

In order to receive permanent total disability benefits under an odd-lot theory, Navarro therefore needed to prove that she is not employable because of age, training, education or experience, Economy argued.

The appeals court disagreed.

It found that although immigration law prevents Navarro from legally working in the U.S., she would still be able to work elsewhere had she not sustained an injury on the job.

It also found that an employer has the burden of producing “sufficient evidence that suitable jobs would be regularly and continuously available to the undocumented alien but for her legal inability to obtain employment.”

Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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