New York Court of Appeals: Illegal alien can be denied workers' comp benefits
July 14, 2008
An injured worker who previously received workers' compensation benefits could be denied additional benefits after a state agency discovered that he was an illegal alien, New York's highest court has ruled. A state agency determined that the worker was an undocumented alien after he was injured at work and while he was still receiving workers' comp benefits.
Two years after his claim was closed, he sought to have it reopened to receive additional compensation.
The state workers' comp statute provides that additional compensation is available only for workers whose impaired wage earning capacity was due solely to the injury.
The employer's insurer asserted that the worker should not receive any more benefits because his lost earning capacity was not due solely to his injury, but resulted instead from his ineligibility to work in the country.
The court agreed.
'[E]ven if we assume that [the worker] cooperated to the extent he could, his inability to participate was not because rehabilitation was not feasible – the board never made a feasibility determination – but because no rehabilitation program is available to those who are not legally employable. … Simply put, it cannot have been the legislature's goal to 'restore … to re-employment' a worker who may not be lawfully employed,' the court said.
'Although some workplace protections and primary workers' compensation benefits have been held to be available to injured workers who cannot demonstrate legal immigration status, the terms of [the statute] are clear and we are constrained to give effect to their plain meaning.'