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Are Undocumented Immigrants Entitled to Workers’ Compensation

RigersThere has been much talk lately about immigration reform and the impact it would have on the American employment market. Some fear that mass legalization would saturate the market and exert downward pressure on wages. Others fear that without a legalization plan, the U.S. is alienating precious knowledge workers that are part of the immigrant population. Another group argues that the current system does not collect income tax from undocumented workers, yet it allows them to obtain benefits that are funded with taxpayer money.

For example, assume someone is injured on the job. Normally, they would be entitled to Workers’ Compensation payments under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. If the injury is grave enough, they would be entitled to permanent total disability. These disability payments come from taxes that the state collects from the tax-paying public and employer contribution. Are then undocumented workers, who are largely exempt from taxation, be entitled to file a claim when they are injured on the job? The answer is ‘Yes’!

An Illinois appellate court held that undocumented aliens are covered. The court agreed with the claimant that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act imposed liability on employers for injuries arising in the course of employment and that liability applied to alien workers as well. The employer argued that the word ‘alien’ in the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act applied to aliens who were legally working in the U.S. The court disagreed. It reasoned that if the legislature had wanted to exclude undocumented aliens form the Act’s jurisdiction, it would have defined the term ‘alien’ to mean only citizens of another country who were legally authorized to work in the U.S.

Employees have certain rights and protections independently of their immigration status. If you have questions about your rights as an employee, please contact an experienced Illinois employment law attorney.


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