The case, Vaughan Roofing & Sheet Metal, LLC v. Antonio Garcia Rodriguez, arose out of an injury sustained by Antonio Rodriguez while doing roofing work at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He was employed by a subcontractor and, under Louisiana state law, his workers' compensation claim was filed against the main contractor or "statutory" employer, Vaughan Roofing & Sheet Metal. Vaughan Roofing argued that it should not be held liable for the payment of benefits as it didn't directly hire Mr. Rodriguez and didn't know he was an undocumented worker at the time of the injury.
Vaughn Roofing fought the claim arguing that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 should preempt Louisiana, or any other state, from allowing undocumented workers to collect workers' compensation benefits. The Louisiana appellate court noted that it was "undisputed" that Mr. Rodriguez was an undocumented worker at the time of the injury, but cited a similar case, Artiga v. M.A. Patout and Son, 671 So.2d 1138 (1996), in determining that "there is no express statutory provision [in Louisiana] excluding undocumented workers from workers' compensation coverage."
While many states provide workers’ compensation benefits to all workers, even those that are undocumented at the time of injury, a number of states such as Virginia, Michigan, and Nevada have denied workers’ compensation benefits to undocumented workers through legislation. Further legislative action is expected on this issue as bills have been introduced in Ohio, Georgia, and Montana which may eliminate workers’ compensation benefits for undocumented workers.
This topic will most certainly be the subject of debate in the near future as legislators at the state level consider whether such legislation is indeed good policy. No doubt it will gain additional prominence once the debate over federal immigration legislation begins as well. Whichever way the debate turns, we will continue to update this space on developments as they occur.