Illegal immigrants who can’t legally work in the United States are still eligible for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), according to a recent 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
Recent case: Jorge Rodriguez is an undocumented immigrant who fell and injured his back while working for Bollinger Shipyards as a pipefitter. He apparently obtained the job by using a false Social Security number and claiming he was a U.S. citizen.
He was awarded benefits because he could not work.
But the shipyard appealed, arguing that, as an illegal immigrant, Rodriguez couldn’t legally work anywhere in the country. Therefore, it argued, he should be barred from collecting benefits to replace the wages he lost because of injury.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It explained that workers’ comp benefits are provided to employees as compensation for injuries that happen at work, and do not technically represent lost wages. Instead, they replace the compensation employees would receive were they to sue their employers for negligence.
Plus, the court was wary of encouraging employers to hire illegal immigrants as a way to avoid health and safety rules meant to protect employees. (Bollinger Shipyards, et al., v. Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, No. 09-60095, 5th Cir., 2010)
Final note: The logic of this case could easily be applied to other workers’ compensation situations not involving the LHWCA.