Can Undocumented Immigrants Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

Rights and Benefits of Undocumented Workers

Many employees and their employers assume that undocumented workers lack legal rights after a workplace injury. This is far from the truth – an employee does not need to have legal immigration status to bring a claim for workers’ compensation in Texas. Although federal law makes it illegal to knowingly hire an undocumented worker, citizenship status cannot keep an injured employee from being protected under Texas law. Texas law specifically provides workers’ compensation coverage for undocumented immigrants who are hurt on the job.

Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)

The Immigration Reform and Control act (IRCA) is the federal law that outlaws hiring undocumented immigrants by imposing hefty penalties (up to $10,000) on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. Many times, when an individual is injured on the job, employers try to use the IRCA to deny workers’ compensation benefits. Employers argue that since the employee was not authorized to work in the United States to begin with, he or she is not a legal employee and therefore ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Worker’s Comp Benefits for All

The Texas Workers’ Compensation Act provides income and medical benefits for employees who suffer work related injuries or illness. The Act covers documented and undocumented workers alike. Undocumented employees are usually protected in lawsuits from discovery of their immigration or citizenship status. That means employees seeking benefits do not have to worry that their employer will be allowed to use their citizenship status as part of the defense to the jury or judge (assuming the legality of citizenship has nothing to do with the injury or the case). A court may even grant a protective order against discovery of citizenship information if such information would hurt the undocumented worker, for example by focusing the matter on citizenship status rather than employment rights, and thereby preventing recovery.

Undocumented Workers Can Sue for Injuries in Court

The court’s decision in Supply, Inc. v. Cabello, 2012 Tex. App. LEXIS 10681 (Tex. App.—Dallas Dec. 21, 2012) is also very important for undocumented immigrants who are injured at work, as it holds that undocumented workers also have the common law right to pursue negligence claims in court against any Texas employer that does not subscribe to workers’ compensation coverage. That means that if an employee is injured but the employer does not have workers’ compensation coverage, the injured person can sue in court, even if they are undocumented. Texas case law allows undocumented workers to not only sue for lost wages, but for future lost wages as well.

We Can Help If You’re an Undocumented Worker

Texas is one of the few states that allows undocumented workers these rights, and the Texas Court of Appeals has even upheld a damage award for an undocumented worker for future lost wages. If you have been injured in a workplace accident and, contact the Law Offices of Ronald A. Ramos, P.C. today to find out how we can help.