I find it hard to believe that employers and the general public have this notion that illegal aliens who are working in the United States (illegally) should not get workers compensation benefits. Why would we feel that the employee is not entitled to some form of compensation if they are injured on the job? Yes, I said employee!
Definition of Employee: A person working for another person, business or firm for pay – (Every Dictionary in use)
Let’s look at this honestly, do we really think that employer s are clueless about the employee’s legal status? Ok I will give 80% of the employers the benefit of the doubt – when the employee walked up to your HR department and presented their paperwork you were clueless to the fact that the documentation was fraudulent. But…there comes a point in the process when you know that the employee is illegal – even if you still want to pretend that they are “legal”. Inevitably the employer receives a notification letter from the Social Security Administration advising them that the “Social Security number doesn’t match”. Then employers have one of three options – (A) Ask the employee to produce legal and correct documentation (B) Terminate the employee immediately (C) Punt – do nothing.
The employer who selected option C – suddenly finds out that the employee had an injury. Then the employer has the nerve to get on the phone to the workers comp carrier insisting that they deny the claim because the employee is illegal. (Funny how one thing has nothing to with the other – or how one thing suddenly has everything to do with the other.) The original amnesia is now gone and the illegal injured employee should be sent packing because we suddenly recognize that the paperwork was a fraud.
What benefits should illegal employees receive if they are injured on the job?
In my minds view they are entitled to medical treatment and in some instances lost wages or death benefits. For all intents and purposes the individual is an employee – you Mr. Employer hired him or her. Until you got caught you paid that person a weekly wage, ire regardless of their legal status so why should we suddenly invoke the fact that the person is illegal. If you followed the current laws and verified the documentation presented by the employee at the time of hire, maybe you would have discovered their legal status before you put them on the job. Should I give you a pass because you didn’t utilize the system? Should I allow you to feel comfortable hiring illegal immigrants knowing that if they are injured on the job or die because of your negligence you get to invoke legal status?
Several years ago, in the height of our building boom I was asked to investigate a claim for an employee who fell from a roof and died. The insurance carrier had no documentation about the injury or death. The insurance carrier received notification of the death from a Foreign Embassy after the employees body was shipped back to his home country. I spent weeks driving around Florida trying to get information about the employee, trying to find out what really happened and who was responsible for his death. I eventually found out that the employee was hired as a roofer to install roofs in an upscale golfing community. The employee was not provided with fall protection, he was not trained in safety and there was nothing he could do when he slipped and fell from the roof landing in the concrete pool two stores below the roof line. The employee was taken to the hospital and died several days later from his injuries.
This is where is gets gory – apparently the employer, a roofing contractor, decided to adjudicate and administer his own version of workers compensation. He hired someone to pretend to be the employee wife – she went to the hospital check out the body. Then he contacted a local funeral home paid for the funeral and had the body shipped back to the employees family. As icing on the cake, he made out a check for $5000 and included it in the casket, as he later told me that was the death benefit in Florida or at least that’s how much he thought the death benefit should be. In fact the death benefit was $100,000 at the time of this incident. So as this man worked on the roof of a million dollar house his life was only worth $5000, as settlement in full for his injury, agony, pain and subsequent death. The only reason we found out about the incident, the employer in his brilliance wrote the casket check from his business checking account and he paid the funeral home with his credit card leaving his address and phone number behind. With a little detective work his scheme to cover up the death and eliminate reporting it to his insurance carrier unraveled. But at the end of the day, he got away with this scotch free. This was the most egregious case that I ever handled as a field adjuster – Is this what workers compensation justice should look like?
So as our politicians rail about illegal immigrants and our state legislators decide to enact sweeping laws that says illegal immigrants are not entitled to anything if they are injured on the job, are we comfortable providing employers with a “legal hall pass” that reads: Hire illegals you won’t have provide them with workers comp benefits if they are injured or die at your company. Are we okay with allowing employers to hire illegal alien’s injury them even kill them and simply say “sorry” now get out of the country? When did we sink into this morally reprehensible hole?