The Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation has recently issued a decision involving an illegal immigrant. In this case, the 34-year old claimant with an 8th grade education fell off a ladder sustaining injuries to his legs, feet, ankles and back. He was diagnosed with compression fractures requiring the daily use of narcotics to control this pain. He was also diagnosed with PTSD and depression related to the injury. The claimant was found to be at MMI and given permanent work restrictions of less than sedentary work. One of the doctors opined that the claimant was permanently and totally disabled. A vocational expert also opined that the claimant was unemployable due to his work restrictions and the need to lie down to reduce his pain. The employer’s expert concluded that the claimant could work on a sedentary basis.
Evidence revealed that the employer had knowledge of the claimant’s questionable immigration status. He was a not a new employee. He also had a questionable Social Security number and he was paid in cash.
The employer unsuccessfully argued that the claimant’s undocumented status and lack of proficiency in English were important reasons as to why the claimant could not find work. The ALJ found the restrictions of having to lie down and take narcotics daily to be credible. Despite his illegal status, the ALJ awarded him permanent and total disability benefits as the State of Missouri does not have a statutory distinction regarding immigration status and entitlement to work place injuries.
While there have been debates on whether the risk of injury should fall on the undocumented workers or on the employers who hire them, there is no law prohibiting undocumented immigrants to be entitled to permanent total disability benefits. In this case, the employer paid the claimant with cash and ended up having to pay lots of cash to this undocumented claimant. Sanchez-Rivera v. Jorge Calderon Construction Company.
To avoid this costly situation, employers need to take necessary precautions to ensure that their employees are legal. The price of hiring an undocumented worker can be quite high.
Thanks to attorney Jill Baker for summarizing this important new development in Missouri. Jill works out of the Chicago and St. Louis offices of Inman and Fitzgibbons and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.