An employee’s status as an undocumented alien doesn’t block
her from collecting workers’ comp benefits if she’s injured on the job, an
Illinois court of appeals has ruled. The court’s decision puts Illinois among
the growing number of state courts handing down similar rulings allowing comp
benefits for undocumented aliens.
“Roberta” worked as a chicken deboner at a poultry
slaughterhouse, Economy Packing Company of Cook County. She later admitted that
when she applied to work there, she didn’t have the necessary paperwork to
legally obtain employment in the United States and that, when she applied for
her position at Economy, she presented documents that she received from a
source other than the government.
She slipped one day at work, hit the wall, and fell to the
floor, striking her head, right shoulder, hip, and buttocks. She collected comp
benefits for her injuries, including significant medical expenses. Eventually,
a doctor recommended that she return to work, but permanently restricted her
from lifting over 10 pounds and from working above her shoulder level.
These restrictions barred her return to her assembly line job
at Economy. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded her permanent
total disability benefits for life.
Economy appealed and the case made its way into the state
court system. The Illinois Court of Appeals agreed with the award of benefits,
pointing out that the state workers’ compensation law defines an “employee” as
“[e]very person in the service of another under any contract of hire […]
including aliens.” The court concluded that all aliens in the service of
another pursuant to a contract for hire, regardless of their immigration
status, are considered “employees” who are entitled to receive workers’
compensation benefits under state law. In reaching that conclusion, the court
turned away Economy’s argument that federal immigration law trumped the
application of state workers’ comp law.
The case is Economy Packing Company v. Illinois Workers’
Compensation Commission, Appellate Court of
Illinois, First Judicial District, No. 1-07-2947WC (12/9/08).