PA Supreme Court Finds In Favor Of Undocumented Workes

Kennett Square Specialties v. WCAB (Cruz) came before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and was recently decided on July 21, 2014. The parties asked the Justices to decide whether it was proper for a WCJ to conclude a worker was undocumented by virtue of his invocation of his 5th amendment rights. Here, the injured worker refused to answer questions concerning his status as a US citizen, asserting his 5th Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination.

Presently, Pennsylvania Courts have ruled any employee who is injured as a result of his or her work duties and disabled because of that injury, is entitled to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits. This right extends to undocumented workers as long as the injured worker is disabled and unable to complete any type of work. Employers have abused this ruling by obtaining medical opinions that an injured worker is capable of doing some type of menial work, no matter how serious the injury. If it is established that a worker is undocumented and capable of doing any kind of work, wage benefits are suspended. Employers have a great interest in determining citizenship status for this reason.

Employers, like in the Cruz case, have been using this tactic to circumvent payment of benefits to undocumented workers. Here, Employers asked the Worker’s Compensation judge to determine an injured worker was undocumented solely because he refused to answer questions about his status as a citizen. The claimant argued that it should be the employer’s responsibility to present evidence about their status.

In a victory for undocumented workers, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that it is the employers sole responsibility to provide independent evidence that a worker is undocumented in order to stop benefits. The refusal to answer questions about ones immigration status does not itself establish a worker is undocumented, and cannot be held against the employee. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court through this ruling has kept with the humanitarian purpose of he Workers’ Compensation Act which was written to benefit those injured at work.