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Nebraska Supreme Court Rules Undocumented Workers Are Eligible for Workers’ Compensation

As an immigration attorney in Texas, I try to remain cognizant of the status of immigrant rights in various social situations. One of the most important concerns for immigrants is their status as an employee. Although current federal laws prohibit undocumented aliens from legally working in the United States, millions of them are gainfully employed. When an on-the-job injury occurs to such a worker, there are numerous considerations that the employer and the worker must make, including whether the injured worker is eligible for workers’ compensation.

The Supreme Court for the state of Nebraska has ruled that the employee in at least one case is eligible for permanent disability benefits. In the case of Moyera vs. Quality Pork International (QPI), Ricardo Moyera was working for QPI under a false name when he was injured by a forklift. The injury broke several bones in his foot and prevented him from returning to his previous job. After he had recovered 80 percent of his physical functionality, QPI investigated his status and learned that he was undocumented. Ricardo Moyera was then fired by QPI.

Moyera took his case to the courts where a judge determined that Moyera should receive permanent medical benefits. After QPI appealed, a review panel confirmed the judge’s ruling. QPI appealed once more to the Nebraska Supreme Court. QPI argued that Moyera should be barred from medical benefits because he was ineligible for legal employment. Because benefits were intended to replace lost wages and Moyera was legally barred from earning, QPI contended that Moyera had no legal standing to receive benefits.

A prior case in Nebraska had established that undocumented immigrants were eligible for temporary total disability benefits, but QPI argued this was a separate legal situation because Moyera was seeking permanent medical benefits.

The Nebraska Supreme Court confirmed the lower court’s rulings based on the reasoning that Moyera’s lost earning power was not limited to the U.S.; he would be unable to work in almost any country and therefore should be compensated. Additionally, the court reasoned that abdicating responsibility to workers, based on their immigration status, provided an unfair competitive advantage to firms who hired illegal workers. These firms would then be financially incentivized to hire such workers because they would not be financially penalized for any workplace injuries. Finally, the public policy concern for worker safety was deemed more important than the status of the worker.

Nebraska is only the latest state to grant workers’ compensation eligibility to undocumented employees. Ohio has codified their access to workers’ compensation in the state’s statutes which was later upheld by Ohio courts. Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, and Idaho have also had similar cases decided in like fashion.

As an immigration attorney in Texas, it is encouraging to see the states take a fair and equitable approach towards this issue. For a private consultation, please contact me at (512) 215-5225.

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