Human Resources News & Insights

Is illegal immigrant entitled to comp benefits? Court decides


Due to his limited education and inability to speak English, a badly injured worker couldn’t perform light-duty work – so he filed for permanent total disability benefits.

A quick breakdown

Luis Aragon, an illegal immigrant, worked for HDV Construction Systems in Tallahassee, FL. After a 30-foot fall, he required extensive medical treatment, including a spinal cord stimulator implant.

Doctors said his injuries are permanent, confining him to sedentary work for life. But his ability to get a job was severely hampered by his limited education and inability to speak English.

HDV said Aragon wasn’t entitled to workers’ compensation because of his “illegal” status.

Did a judge award Aragon workers’ comp?

The verdict

Yes. Aragon was awarded permanent total disability.

A workers’ comp judge (and later an appeals court) ruled that HDV should’ve known Aragon was an illegal immigrant, so that wasn’t a valid reason to deny him benefits.

In addition, Florida law defines “employee” as anyone receiving compensation from an employer.

A company that knowingly employs an illegal immigrant shouldn’t be able to shirk the cost of the injuries it creates, because that would put employers who operate lawfully at a disadvantage, the appeals court ruled.

Illegal aliens protected, too

Recent court rulings like this have sent a clear message to companies: Employment laws protect illegal aliens, too.

Another example: When a group of immigrant workers in Washington State sued their employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the company tried to get the case thrown out, saying illegal aliens weren’t protected under that federal law.

But a court allowed the lawsuit to proceed, saying the FLSA protects all employees — regardless of immigration status — from abuse.

Cite: HDV Construction Systems, Inc. v. Aragon and Bailon v. Seok AM No. 1 Corp.

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  • I fully agree with this court decision.
    One of the primary reasons that the U.S. has so many illegal aliens that many americans complain about is because there are so many U.S. employers who would rather break the law by hiring an illegal alien in order to save money.
    Those U.S. employers who knowingly and intentionally break the law to save themselves money should not be protected from liability.

  • Jim Culhane

    If we are going to hold companies responsible for illegal aliens, then we should do the same for others.
    Fines should also be placed on anyone else who knowingly provide help and service for the illegals.
    This would include those who rent lodging, provide social services and all government agencies just to name some.
    It seems quite unfair to ignore all of these and put all the blame and responsibility on business.

  • Jen

    I also agree with this decision. Workers’ Comp is intended to try to bandage the wounds and put the pieces back together when someone is injured on the job. The employer benefitted from this man’s labor when he WAS able to work, and now they want to leave him high and dry when he is injured? That is shameful, especially since it is the employer’s obligation to verify I-9 info upon hiring.

  • Jason

    This is a continued drain on the american system. It is not just the employers problem. Other businesses pay into the same insurance pool. So we all will have to pay.

  • Martin

    There is no excuse or sympathy extended for this employer – they took the risk or hiring someone they likely knew was an illegal alien – it is NOT hard to determine that!
    They chose to ignore the obvious and abandon the risk once it became a liability – then it came back to bite them in the butt.
    This is one reason insurers drop coverage on employers that hire day labor or illegals because of the significant uncontrolled risk involved.
    The employer will argue they are trying to compete (or undercut) with legitimate businesses….so get legit.

  • Geanette

    I agree with the court decision, guess employers will do what is right and legal when hiring an employee which includes if they have a legal right to work in the country.

  • I don’t necessarily believe that “companies” per se should be held responsible for illegal aliens.
    I believe that the person within that company who hires an individual who he/she knows, or has reason to believe, is not legally authorized to work within the U.S., should be held responsible for the illegal act.
    I “DO NOT” believe that the person who is responsible for the illegal hiring practice, “should be fined.”
    The company should be fined if the upper management does not find and correct the illegal hire with a reasonable period of time.
    The person who actually does the hire, should be;
    (1) fired by the company.
    (2) arrested and prosecuted for the illegal act.
    (3) and possibly fined as well.
    I’d be willing to bet good money, that such repercussions would slow down hiring of illegal aliens by U.S. companies, which in turn would ultimately reduce illegal immigration, cause they can’t find jobs.
    I would also agree that any person who rents long term to a person who is not a legal resident, or at least a legal visitor to the U.S. should face the same consequences as the person who does an illegal hire.
    With reasonable allowances made for tourist’s to rent during their visit, and reasonable allowances made where a person is here on a student or other legally authorized visa.
    And if a person working for a government agency approves benefits for a person who is known to be or reasonably should be known to be in this country illegally, then that person should face the same consequences as outlined above.
    But then, that is “MY” opinion.

  • Hot Rod

    Unfortunately, I agree with the decision of the court, however, to follow up on the penalties:

    1) deport the person to their country of origin
    2) levy in the way of fines, 2 times the cost of deportation by seizing assets from said injured person
    3) levy in the way of fines, 3 times the cost of deportation of said injured person from the hiring business
    4) give the person as much medical care as is necessary and born at the companies expense.
    5) if the company files for bankruptcy protection, hold the officers of the company liable

    As an owner of several businesses, one of the ways to get a better control over hiring illegal immigrants is to make the penalties harsh.

    Slapping the wrists of some of these larger companies isn’t going to solve the problem. Making the companies pay into an agency that further looks for the hiring of illegals is but one way of doing this

    It also levels the playing field for companies that do hire legal employees.

  • Eric Tyira

    Since the employer hired the guy, they should be the ones to pay the disability directly to the worker. They took the risk for cheap labor and now should pay the price.

    If we could get this to fly, then employers will surely check the legal status of employees and be much more cautious.

    Unfortunately, this also means a higher cost of goods because employers will pass the higher cost onto the customer.

  • Denise

    Everyone is assuming the company knowingly hired an illegal immigrant. What if this person had documents with their “supposed” name, “supposed” picture and a valid social security card and they marked on the I-9 that they are a U.S. Citizen. Does everyone think the company should be responsible then? Believe me, this situation happens ALL the time. There are many illegal immigrants who buy identities from Puerto Rico and they are able to produce a birth certificate and a valid State ID/License. This is all it takes for the I-9. These illegal immigrants basically change their name and instead of being called “Jose” they are now called “Juan” and the employer has NO WAY of knowing the person isn’t who they said they are. E-Verify doesn’t even correct this situation. This is a situation that is frustrating and needs to be corrected!

  • Denise – I am sure, and honestly hope, that if an employee falsified documents then that would come out in court. The courts found out in some way that the person was here illegally and as they say, ignorance to the law is no excuse. The courts also use the understandjng of the actions of a “reasonable man” in passing judgements, so if an employer did everything right and legal as far as determining eligiblity of a person to work in the US, I can’t see them being penalized.

    i agree with falsifying documents is a whole another “ball game” and needs to be addressed as well!

  • All large businesses require drug test’s and background checks.
    Which “should” effectively control the vast majority of any falsified documents being used to obtain employment.
    At least in any larger business with the proper resources to be able to facilitate accurate background checks.
    Of course with smaller businesses there are fewer available resources so you would have some easily slip through the cracks.
    A small business could easily be “excused” where the illegal alien used falsified documents that would be difficult for the average person to see any fault with.
    But a larger business that routinely performs drug testing and background checks, shouild not be excused.
    “For a large business” there is no legitimate reason or excuse for failing to discover that an employee, or potential employee, is using falsified documents.

  • Denise

    Ed – I have to plead ignorance on how drug testing and someone having legitimate documents that show their ID go together. I work for a large company (20,000+ employees) and we perform drug testing but that doesn’t seem to dissuade illegal immigrants from trying to get a job. We have had situations where an applicant was hired, completed the I-9 and produced valid documents that showed they were “Maria”. There was NOTHING that “flagged” us to make us think she wasn’t “Maria”. She had a valid state ID with her “name” and picture and a valid social security card. About 3 years later, ICE showed up and told us that “Maria” was actually “Guadalupe.” In this situation, I don’t see where a small company and a big company are any different. It is still humans who are trying to do right with a broken system the government has created for us. I asked ICE how she was able to get a valid State ID with her picture and they told me it happens all the time because the states pretty much give anyone a valid ID that comes in – even if you don’t have proper paperwork.
    I think it is time the illegal immigrants have to take some responsibility for their actions. We have even been told that deportation is considered “nothing” because they will be back in the US within a week or two. Frustrating to say the least!

  • Carol

    It doesn’t matter whether or not they are illegal; they are still entitled to benefits. When one of our employees was hired, his documents appeared to be authentic. Now that the case is headed to court it was admitted that the employee submitted false documents. Because we cannot legally keep him on as an employee and find light duty, we are forced to pay out a big settlement that will enable him to live like royalty for the rest of his life. If employees on work comp are not forced to seek legal status before collecting a settlement then the employer should not bear the responsibility of ensuring that they are set for life. I have always been on the side of the employee but when there is clearly a situation where fraud was committed my viewpoint is strongly slanted with the business.

  • If an employee used false documents to get a job and they are really illegal in this country, then that is a whole another ball game. In a case like that, then criminal charges should be placed against the employee which should supersede any rights to benefits.

  • Carol
    You say that “When one of our employees was hired, his documents appeared to be authentic.”
    You indicate from this that the company, “you(?)” should therefore be held blameless when the employee winds up being injured while working for you.
    I have a problem with your argument.
    You believe you should be held blameless because the illegal employee obtained employment under false pretense constituting fraud.
    I believe the company “should” be held responsible because the company “failed to dilligently pursue sufficient verification of the potential employees legal status prior to hiring that employee.”
    Virtually every business in the country includes a question on their application.
    “Have you ever been arrested?”
    If the answer to that question is yes, then the application goes straight to the trash can.
    If the answer is no, then more often than not, an extensive background check is conducted.
    Is it illegal to employ someone who has an arrest record? NO
    Is the mere fact that someone has been previously arrested demonstrate that he or she will commit another crime? NO
    Yet you are still going to go through the trouble of verifying that the applicant has no arrest record.
    Because you are afraid that the convicted felon “will steal from you,” “will cause you to lose business if/when the public learns that you are employing an ex felon,” “will subject you to potential law-suits in the future.”

    Virtually every business in the country conducts mandatory drug testing, despite the fact that in 90 percent of all drug testing, it is only marijuana that shows up. Harder drugs used more than three days before the test rarely shows up on drug tests, yet pot is likely to show up as much as a month after the last use.
    Does the fact that someone smoked a joint over the weekend going to effect the job performance on Monday? NO
    All effects of marijuana use are gone generally within 8 hours of the last use.
    But that company is going to pay for that drug test.
    Because the federal government has declared that if a company does not conduct such drug testing of employees, then the federal government will no longer award contracts to that company, or will no longer allow certain tax breaks enjoyed by that company.

    In other words.
    You do two things, run background checks, and test for drug use, though it is not illegal to “hire someone who is an ex felon, or to hire someone who uses or has used drugs.”
    Yet you flat refuse to verify that an applicant can be legally employed by you.
    And believe that you should be held blameless when an “illegal” applicant is hired because of “YOUR” failure, even though it is in actuality “just as illegal” for you to hire that person without verifying their legal status, as it is for them to “fraudulently obtain work from you.”

  • geanette.
    sure lock him up and let your tax dollars pay his medical bills while he waits to be deported.
    Let the people who “also” broke the law by hiring him in the first place off the hook.

  • The bottom line question is.
    What did the company do to verify that the documentation used by the illegal immigrant to obtain employment was in fact legitimate?
    Or, Did the company merely look at the drivers license and social security card, and say; “ok that looks real and legitimate, so we’ll hire you.”
    Did the company bother to check the employment history included on the application?
    An illegal alien, even if they have fake identification, virtually “never” has a traceable employment history.
    Unverifiable employment history should always raise a red flag.
    Did the illegal alien have an obvious accent during the interview?
    Few and far between illegal alien’s speak fluent english without a heavy accent.
    A heavy spanish accent should always raise a red flag.
    The bottom line is that the company who hired the illegal alien in the first place broke the law just as certainly as the illegal alien who used the false documents to obtain the job.
    They broke the law because they failed to dilligently investigate and insure that the potential employee was in fact legally eligible for employment.
    And the company should therefore not be held blameless by claiming that the documents presented during the application process “looked” to be legitimate on their face.

  • Carol

    We now use e-verify to verifiy that the documents are legit. We are not allowed to go back to prior employees and run them through e-verify per the feds. Most businesses do not have time to verify prior employment unless there are red flags. The feds say that examining the documents will satisfy their rulings; we also make copies of all documents after verification. I never put the word “blameless” into the comment. Are we doing all that the feds require us to do? Yes, we are. Is there more that could be done (ex. checking prior employment?) Probably, but in small business sometimes the person who runs the I-9 checks wears many hats and the company has more important things to do than go over and above what the government requires. Using the e-verify program has helped illegal immigrants to not apply at our company knowing that their documents may be found invalid. Until the government gives us better tools to help weed out anyone who is illegally here, the fact that we are doing what the law requires has to be enough. If your company has time to thoroughly scrutinize all future employees good for them but I bet that person who is doing the checking is pulling their hair out trying to get all the other things done required for their employment. I have confidence that our procedures would enable us to get through an audit by the Dept of Homeland Security and by the way you should not be throwing apps away if they have been arrested for a crime without making sure that you are not discriminating against the applicant.

  • I guess we all better be glad that businesses, most of them anyway, at least do “everything that is required by law” for them to do.
    Otherwise, our children would still be used for slave labor.
    The company would only pay the salary “that they want to pay.”
    No vehicle would be safe to drive on the highway.
    And power tools would be assembled by drug addicted idiots who would happily work for just enough to get their next fix.
    Is what I just said going somewhat over-board?
    Of course it is.
    But no more so than what you just wrote.

    One in a half million illegal immigrants, “might” be able to speak fluent english without a heavy accent.
    One in maybe ten thousand people born and raised in this country, “might” have trouble speaking fluent english, and “might” have an accent to indicate their ethnic heritage.
    It is not discrimination, “by law,” for any “company” to question the legal status of any person who, during a job interview, cannot speak reasonably fluent english without a heavy accent; even if the job applicant under scrutiny turns out to be “in fact” a legal resident of the United States.

    In other words, what I’m saying is simple.
    It is virtually impossible to inadvertently hire an illegal alien.
    Because there will “always” be some type of red flag, regardless of how legitimate the identification documents appear to be on their face.

    It is not illegal, or discriminatory to “choose” not to hire an ex felon.
    Even the government refuses to hire an ex felon, by written policy, until after that felon has been free in society without any type of supervision for a period of ten years, regardless of the applicants qualifications for the job.

  • Glenn

    Ed, although I understand where you are coming from on most of your comments, here is the problem I have with all of this government illegal alien mumbo-jumbo. Social Security sends you notice in 2002 that numbers don’t match the names they have on file. You call the employee in have them show you their card and then let Social Security know that everything appears to be correct on your end, and in 2011 they have never contacted you again about the matter, and this person still works for you!
    The other problem I have is that I am required to send a report to “W-4 New Hire Reporting” within 30 days of hiring anybody. Name, address, DOB, SSN, … so I have told the government who I am hiring. Why aren’t they responcible for the illegal alien?
    As far as Workers Comp., they worked, they got hurt, they earned it same as anybody else if it is a legitamate claim.