Immigrant gets workers' compensation benefits in Pennsylvania

A person unable to work or requiring medical attention due to injuries suffered at work can claim compensation for the injuries. Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a worker who refuses to specify if the worker is legally authorized to work and live in the United States cannot be denied workers' compensation benefits.

According to court filings, a truck driver suffered a back injury while working, and doctors advised him to not lift heavy weight and not perform any tasks that involved extended muscle movement. The employer said that, due to the physical restrictions, it was unable to provide further employment. The worker was given temporary workers' compensation, and a few months later the employer stopped payments. The worker argued that the injuries left him unable to work, so he should receive full workers' compensation.

The worker testified in a hearing that he was not a U.S. native. Nonetheless, he was living in the U.S. for almost 10 years. The right against self-incrimination is embedded in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This Amendment was invoked by the worker many times when asked about his legal status to reside and work in the country.

The compensation judge stated that the employer was liable to pay medical expenses, but, since the employer had proven that the worker was not allowed to work in the country, workers' compensation disability benefits were suspended. The compensation was reinstated by the appeals board and Commonwealth Court.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the order of the Commonwealth Court and stated that the employer had not proved the worker's loss of earning power was due to lack of work authorization. The judge also noted that the employer could introduce evidence from federally required work documentation, but it was not the responsibility of the worker to produce evidence. It was stated that just because the worker was born in a different country does not imply that he is not eligible to work here.

Source: The Patriot-News, "Pa. Supreme Court weighs in on battle over injured immigrant's eligibility for workers comp," Matt Miller, July 22, 2014

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