Rusty Watts, a partner in the Atlanta-based office of Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers says you could be impacted, regardless of whether your state provides workers' comp benefits for these workers.
While some states provide benefits to illegal aliens hurt on the job, others have tried to exclude them. Watts' presentation, Undocumented Workers: Strategies to Navigate the Legislative Minefield, will provide in-depth analyses of immigration laws, show state-by-state trends, and offer strategies for employers to handle the legal, claims and rehabilitation implications involved.
Most states have adopted legislation regarding the employment of undocumented workers. Watts says there are only about 15 states that have not.
"That's a really big difference," he said. "Ten years ago we were talking about all these states grinding through these issues. We've worked our way through that and are now getting into the more subtle areas of undocumented workers on the comp system."
States that have passed measures specifically related to how or whether injured illegal aliens receive workers' comp benefits are now delving into more detailed issues, "such as what happens in a light duty scenario, or vocational rehab," Watts said. "These states are going to the next level."
Another trend among states is consideration of legislative initiatives regarding undocumented workers that may or may not specifically relate to the workers' comp system. Ohio, Utah and Montana, for example, have considered proposals specific to the workers' comp system, while Arizona and Georgia have looked at more comprehensive proposals.
"Louisiana is a perfect example, where employers have to verify documents in a way that's maybe above and beyond what federal law had asked," Watts said. "Georgia is a good [example] because there is all kinds of wording in the legislation about harboring undocumented workers or unknowingly hiring them. So some things don't specifically impact the workers' comp act, but do peripherally."
Impact on employers. It's important for employers to understand their rights and responsibilities under federal immigration laws, Watts said. His presentation will provide some dos and don'ts.
Regardless of whether a state allows undocumented workers to recover benefits there are subtle issues that impact employers' exposure to workers' comp claims, such as light duty return-to-work.
"The way states are dealing with that is quite varied," Watts said. "Some allow immediate termination of benefits once there is light duty available, while others require job offers to be extended, even though the employer knows the employee can't take the job because he's illegal. So return-to-work light duty is a huge area where we're evolving."
Watts doesn't see the issue of injured undocumented workers going away anytime soon; in fact, quite the contrary.
"I believe between now and November 2012 it will get bigger than it's ever been," he said. "It's an election year and this is a flashpoint issue. I think we're going to hear a ton about it in the next 15 months."
The 20th annual National Workers' Compensation and Disability ConferenceŽ
& Expo takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Nov. 9-11. The conference is produced by LRP Publications.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
August 29, 2011
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