California court upholds workers comp for undocumented workers

October 19th, 2005 by Julie Ferguson

On Monday, California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld the rights of undocumented workers who are injured at work to receive workers compensation benefits in its ruling in Farmers Brothers Coffee vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. A three-judge panel ruled unanimously, stating, “California law has expressly declared immigration status irrelevant to the issue of liability to pay compensation to an injured worker.” This ruling was issued despite the fact that the worker in question had a fraudulent Social Security card. See Roberto Ceniceros’ story in Business Insurance for insight on the issue of fraud in this case.
We’ve beaten this drum several times before, but one more time for the record: we fully endorse this ruling. We note with interest how this story is being reported by some of the “dead-tree” media. Newsday, Business Week, and the Washington Post all have headlines that read “Calif. Ruling Expands Workers’ Comp,” a phrase that is not only inaccurate, it demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge of workers compensation. Including immigrant workers in workers comp does not expand coverage – in most states, this is a protection afforded to all workers already, and in legal challenges, courts almost always uphold the rights of the undocumented workers. To deny them such protection would be exclusionary. It would also open employers up to civil suits and weaken the protection afforded by exclusive remedy. Not to mention the incentive it would provide unscrupulous employers to hire even more undocumented workers, and to assign them the most dangerous jobs.
Answered prayers
One quote that I am fond of citing is attributed to Saint Theresa: “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.” A few years ago, employers in the state of Virginia had an “answered prayers” moment when the Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled to exclude illegal immigrants from the protections of workers comp. Almost before the ink could dry on the ruling, the onslaught of litigation had employers clamoring to amend state law to explicitly include aliens, both legal and illegal. But not satisfied to learn from this experience, some knee-jerk Virginia lawmakers jumped on the politically charged illegal immigration bandwagon this past February, once again trying to restrict access to workers comp protections. The bill passed the House of Delegates but was defeated in the Senate (free registration may be required to access these last two articles).
With the sentiment against illegal immigrants reaching a near-fevered pitch – witness the vigilante movements at our borders – we doubt this will be the last post we make on this topic.
For more on the topic:
Wyoming court to examine compensability for illegal immigrants
Janitors: The Big Squeeze
S. Carolina to bar workers comp for undocumented immigrants?
Modern day slavery
More on immigrant workers
Jobs that lure Mexican workers to the U.S. are killing them