Is an Illegal Immigrant Entitled to Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

October 29, 2012

Is an illegal immigrant working in this country entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation statutes? This question was answered in the affirmative in the Delaware Superior Court case, Del. Valley Field Servs. V. Ramirez, No. 12A-01-007-JOH (Sept. 13, 2012).

Saul Ramirez began working as an independent contractor in April 2010, and then working as a regular employee an added to payroll in January 2011. Mr. Ramirez’s boss requested a Social Security number in order to include him on payroll. Responding to that request, Mr. Ramirez furnished a fake Social Security card.

Shortly after being converted to a full-time employee, Mr. Ramirez fell down some stairs and injured his back. The accident was witnessed by the company’s president and reported the accident. It was determined by the treating physician that Mr. Ramirez was totally disabled.

In February, the company was informed by the payroll service that Mr. Ramirez’s Social Security number was false and Mr. Ramirez was subsequently deported in March.

Employer argued that employee (Mr. Ramirez) was not entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits because:

  1. Employee’s “fraudulent inducement” in falsifying documents to gain employment;
  2. Mr. Ramirez’s deportation suspended benefits;
  3. If Mr. Ramirez could not be lawfully hired pursuant to federal immigration laws, the State’s workers’ compensation laws were preempted.

The Board rejected those arguments stating that despite Mr. Ramirez’s illegal status and falsifying documents, he still qualified as an “employee” under the Workers’ Compensation Act (“Act”). The information Mr. Ramirez falsified was not the type of information that would make him forfeit his rights as the falsification did not pertain to his health, work history, or prior injuries.

Next, the Board stated that federal law did not prohibit the award of benefits to an illegal alien. Also, the inability of Mr. Ramirez to return to the United States for treatment did not forfeit his right to benefits as he was not “refusing” treatment as defined in the Act.

The main issue in this case was not one of immigration law, it was labor law. Mr. Ramirez was hired by the company to perform work. He was injured on the job and required medical treatment. There was no dispute about the actual injury. The employer received the bargained-for benefit of the employment relationship. This case has been appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court.