Undocumented workers not excluded from coverage in D.C.
Case name: Asylum Co. v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, No. 08-AA-1158
(D.C. Cir. 12/23/10).
Ruling: In a matter of first impression, the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit held that an undocumented alien was entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
What it means: In the District of Columbia, an undocumented alien is covered by the workers' compensation statute.
Summary: A busboy, who was an undocumented worker, was struck in the right eye by a bottle thrown by a customer, resulting in a dislocated lens. After the restaurant received the busboy's medical bills, it realized he was an undocumented alien. The busboy sought benefits. The restaurant asserted that the workers' compensation statute's definition of "employee" made no mention of illegal aliens. The U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit held that he was entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
The court first decided that undocumented aliens are not excluded from the workers' compensation statute. The court noted that the conclusion furthers the statute's purposes to provide "[b]road coverage of employees" and encourage safety. Excluding undocumented workers from coverage and allowing employers to avoid paying benefits to such workers would undermine the goal of encouraging employers to foster a safe workplace.
The restaurant argued that the busboy's wage loss was not the direct result of his work injury but based on his immigration status. The court said that it was the busboy's eye injury, and the time required for him to recover and adjust to his impaired vision, that made him unable to return to comparable wage-earning anywhere, rendering him "disabled."
Next, the restaurant argued that it should not be required to pay wages to the busboy for his disability because immigration law prohibited it from employing the busboy. The court said that the award was for wage-loss benefits, not back pay.
The court also sent the case back to consider whether the employer acted in bad faith when it withheld payment of benefits to the busboy.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
February 17, 2011
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