Tuesday, October 18, 2005
C.A. Upholds Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Illegal Aliens
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
California law granting undocumented aliens who are hurt on the job most of the rights granted to other injured workers is not preempted by the 1986 immigration reform law, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Four, in an opinion by Justice J. Gary Hastings, rejected the contention that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 precludes a state from treating an undocumented worker as an “employee” within the meaning of the Workers’ Compensation Act.
California joins at least four other states where appellate courts that have rejected preemption challenges to workers’ compensation laws.
Farmers Brothers Coffee sought review in the appeals court after the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board ruled that Rafael Ruiz was an employee and that Insurance Code Sec. 1871.4, which requires a person who obtains insurance benefits by fraud to pay restitution, did not apply.
The board relied on Labor Code Sec. 1171.5, which provides that all workers’ rights, “except any reinstatement remedy prohibited by federal law,” are available to all employees regardless of immigration status.
In concluding that the WCAB was correct, Hastings cited a House Judiciary Committee report disclaiming any intent on the part of IRCA’s sponsors “to undermine or diminish in any way labor protections in existing law, or to limit the powers of federal or state .†.†.†labor standards agencies.”
Intent to preempt state laws, Hastings elaborated, may only be implied if there is an actual conflict between the state and federal enactments so that the enforcement of state law will impede the federal objective.
IRCA’s objective, Hastings reasoned, was to deter illegal immigration, primarily through employer sanctions enforced by the federal government. Placing the WCAB in the position of an immigration enforcement agency, which it would be if it had to verify the immigration status of every injured worker, would conflict with, not complement, IRCA.
The justice distinguished Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB (2002) 535 U.S. 137, which held that IRCA precluded the NLRB from awarding back pay to an undocumented worker as a remedy for a labor law violation.
The Hoffman court reasoned that payment for work not actually performed by a person who could not legally perform that work was contrary to the policy of IRCA.
But Hastings noted that Sec. 1171.5, enacted in response to Hoffman, provides that an undocumented worker will not receive a reinstatement remedy precluded by federal law. Back pay is such a remedy, the justice explained.
“Under existing law, back pay is not recoverable by an employee who would not be rehired regardless of any employer misconduct,” Hastings wrote. “Thus, where reinstatement is prohibited by federal law, section 1171.5 would also prohibit backpay, which was the intent of the Legislature in passing section 1171.5 and related statutes.”
Hastings also rejected a claim that Ruiz’s use of a fraudulent documentation to obtain his job barred him from receiving benefits, under Insurance Code Sec. 1871.4.
The sanctions imposed by that statute apply only to persons who have been convicted of a crime, the justice wrote, adding that the law applies to the use of fraudulent documentation to obtain benefits, not to obtain employment.
Attorneys on appeal were Dennis J. Hershewe for Farmers Brothers and G. Martin Jacobs of the Law Offices of William W. Tiffany for Ruiz. The California Applicant Attorney’s Association filed an amicus brief supporting the employee.
The case is Farmers Brothers Coffee v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, B180839.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company