N.Y. Court Denies Undocumented Alien Added Workers’ Comp

July 2, 2008

New York’s top court has ruled that an undocumented alien injured while working as a printer properly received basic workers’ compensation, but he wasn’t eligible for additional payments because of his legal status.

Ronnie Ramroop got temporary disability benefits for five years after a printing press crushed four of his fingers at Flexo-Craft Printing Inc. in Brooklyn in 1995. The Court of Appeals noted that was consistent with its 2006 ruling in another case.

But a majority of the judges concluded that under the law, additional compensation for impairment of earning capacity must be due solely to the injury. Ramroop’s status as an undocumented alien, not legally employable in the U.S. and ineligible for a state vocational rehabilitation program, represented a different obstacle to getting work,

“Simply put, it cannot have been the Legislature’s goal to ‘restore … to re-employment’ a worker who may not be lawfully employed,” Judge Theodore Jones Jr. wrote for the 5-2 majority. Judges Victoria Graffeo, Susan Read, Robert Smith and Eugene Pigott Jr. agreed.

The law also requires an injured worker to participate in an approved rehabilitation program unless they’re found physically incapable. Ramroop was referred to the state’s Office for Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities, which found him ineligible for services as an undocumented alien.

In a dissent, Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick said it wasn’t clear from the record whether there are any Workers Compensation Board-approved rehabilitation programs for those without a green card. Ciparick, joined by Chief Judge Judith Kaye, said she would send the case back to a lower court to determine that.

“All workers, whether or not they are authorized to work in this country, are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits as such benefits are available,” Ciparick wrote. “The legislative history of Workers’ Compensation Law demonstrates that only health-related restrictions on eligibility were contemplated. … Nowhere within the legislative history does it state that in order to qualify the worker must be legally authorized to work within the United States.”

An administrative law judge awarded Ramroop additional benefits in 2003, ordering the State Insurance Fund to make payments. The fund appealed, and a Workers Compensation Board panel reversed that ruling, a decision upheld by a midlevel court.

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