Workplace Wise - Iowa Employment Law Attorneys

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Undocumented Workers are entitled to Workers' Compensation in Iowa

By Elizabeth A Coonan

On November 15, 2013, the Supreme Court of Iowa in Staff Management and New Hampshire Insurance v. Jimenez ruled that the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner can award an undocumented worker healing period benefits under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act.  Using the doctrine of “expression unis est exlusio alterius” (don’t worry, we had to look it up too) as standing for the proposition that legislative intent is expressed by omission as well as by inclusion, the Court determined that the definition of “employee” under section 85.61(11) of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act is to be read in a broad manner. The court reasoned, “If the legislature intended the definition of a worker or employee to exclude undocumented workers, it would have done so by adding undocumented workers to the list of excluded workers or employees.”

It should be noted that this case dealt only with the issue of entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits, not whether the employer had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating the undocumented employee. The employee advanced an argument indicating that the employer was aware that she was undocumented when the employee was initially hired. Legally and strategically, this left the employer with no choice but to argue that it was not aware of her lack of work authorization as the knowing employment of an individual not authorized to work in the United States comes with significant risk of fines and penalties.  The moral of this story: Once you have knowledge that a workers is undocumented, you may not continue to employ that individual but he or she may still be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits in the State of Iowa.  

If you have questions about workers’ compensation or immigration compliance, contact your BrownWinick employment law attorney.

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