With immigration a hot topic, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently handed down the latest reminder that the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act affords relief even for alleged undocumented workers. On Oct. 18, the court decided Bryn Mawr Landscaping v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Cruz-Tenorio), No. 1268 C.D. 2018 (Pa. Cmwlth. 10/18/2019), revisiting the intersection of Pennsylvania workers’ compensation and immigration law. While Bryn Mawr Landscaping addressed more than just immigration issues with creative lawyering by both sides, the message is clear: the management of the exposure to a workers’ compensation claim based even in-part on an individual’s legal work status has its limits. However, employers, insurers and counsel should not ignore a worker’s status either.
One fundamental threshold for obtaining workers’ compensation benefits any injured worker faces is his or her establishment of an employer and employee relationship at the time of injury. Claims handlers, injured workers and even attorneys probing the compensability of a claim at its outset might ponder when the issue of a claimant’s potential illegal work status arises: if the claimant was not authorized to work in the United States, is that in and of itself a bar to compensation? For those unfamiliar, an “unauthorized alien” qualifies as an employee who may be eligible for compensation just like any natural citizen, as in Reinforced Earth v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Astudillo), 810 A.2d 99 (Pa. 2002).
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