An Alabama workers’ compensation lawyer faces a different kind of battle when dealing with an undocumented worker filing for workers’ compensation benefits. Just because the employee is undocumented, it does not mean the undocumented worker is completely exempt from receiving worker’s compensation benefits.
Undocumented workers in Alabama are plentiful. These individuals face many workplace issues such as long hours, low wages and often the least desireable and most difficult jobs. Sadly, these conditions result in many injuries. Up until a few years ago, there was no remedy for these individuals when it came to workers’ compensation. Traditionally, undocumented workers were exempt from receiving any benefits. That is not the case anymore.
Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), undocumented immigrants are now legally authorized to work in the United States. The law requires employers to verify their employee’s eligibility to work. Violations of the IRCA result in costly sanctions. Many employers have relied on the IRCA to defend a claim against an undocumented worker trying to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
There are arguments on both sides for an undocumented worker receiving workers’ compensation benefits. On one hand, the employer should not profit off the worker and yet deny them the same rights other employees receive. On the other hand, the worker places their employer at a legal risk by working illegally and wants to be afforded benefits and protection of the law at the expense of that employer. Despite both arguments, undocumented workers are able to receive workers’ compensation benefits under Alabama state law.
In order to claim workers’ compensation benefits, several elements must be met. For an undocumented worker, a cause of action requires proof that they are an employee covered by workers’ compensation, that they sustained a workplace injury, the injury is compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act, and they have made a claim for benefits.
In Alabama, an employee includes any person in the service of another under any contract of hire, express or implied, including aliens.
In one particular Alabama case, a young man came to the United States illegally from Mexico and worked construction. While working on a home, he became paralyzed and attempted to receive workers’ compensation benefits. An Alabama court ruled that the construction company was to pay compensation benefits to the young man for the rest of his life and cover medical bills. This case clearly demonstrates the potential for undocumented workers to receive benefits.
An undocumented worker’s claim for workers’ compensation is no longer automatically dismissed. Instead, an Alabama workers’ compensation lawyer has a strong claim if they are able to meet the traditional workers’ compensation elements. Workers’ compensation benefits for undocumented workers should not be underestimated any longer.
I am handling one such case right now in court. I currently represent the wife of a worker who was killed while working at a hotel. The worker was an undocumented alien from Mexico. That fact is not in dispute and not a defense for the employer.
Bernard D. Nomberg has practiced law in Alabama for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Rated Attorney by B-Metro Magazine.
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