Undocumented, and Unprotected? MD Quiet on ‘Alien’ Status

12.06.2017


By Phil Yacuboski

This is the next article in WorkersCompensation.com's “Undocumented, and Unprotected?” series, as our writers explore what is it like to be an undocumented worker in the U.S., and what it means regarding workers' compensation.

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Annapolis, MD (WorkersCompensation.com) – Like many states, Maryland offers full workers’ compensation benefits to those here illegally. 

“The sole question is whether an undocumented worker is identified as an employee and there was a Maryland court ruling that they are,” said Michael Hodge, a producer with Southern Maryland Insurance in Bowie. “They are performing the duties of the employee and meet all of the standards. The fact of whether they are documented or undocumented is really irrelevant.”

In 2005, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled in favor of Diego Lagos, who was hurt on the job in 2001 while working for Design Kitchen. According to court records, the insurance company, Princeton Insurance Company, claimed because Lagos was an undocumented worker, he violated federal law and voided the contract. The court affirmed a lower court ruling. Maryland law is silent on “alien” or illegal status, hence ruling in Lagos’ favor.

“They can receive medical treatment for their injuries and get compensation from the insurance companies,” said Lauren Pisano, a Gaithersburg workers’ compensation attorney.  She does see some clients who are undocumented and speak Spanish; she also works with a paralegal who is fluent in Spanish. 

Much like is the case in some states, vocational rehabilitation is not included for noncitizens in Maryland. Pisano said that’s because the state would be admitting they are here illegally. 

“If the state hired a vocational expert, then they would be knowing you were here illegally,” she said.

Pisano said before any workers’ comp claim is filed in Maryland, there is always a discussion about whether the Social Security Number is good; if it is stolen, Pisano said her firm won’t take the case.

She said in one case, a client was found to have a stolen identity after the claim was paid. The firm then dropped the case. 

Hodge said from an insurance company perspective, there could be an issue with a false Social Security Number. 

“If they have committed a crime by submitting a fake identification, that could negate the coverage under the workers’ comp law,” he said. “It’s (a) fraudulent claim that’s been filed. Insurance companies can investigate fraud.”

He said the basis for denying the claim is because the worker is committing fraud, not because they are undocumented.

Hodge said in some cases, there are questions surrounding the “lost wages” portion.

“Are they getting paid by the employee directly or are they being paid under the table,” said Hodge, who is also a licensed attorney. “They may be receiving money from the employer under the table, but there’s no pay stub. It’s really a question of what their wages are.”

CASA of Maryland, an immigrants’ rights group, called attention to the workers’ comp issue in February of 2017. The group called out Alan Kittleman, the Howard County executive to support a bill that would bar discrimination against immigrants. The group said as a state senator, Kittleman supported a bill to ban workers’ compensation benefits for undocumented workers.

“While those proposals were luckily unsuccessful,” the group said in a statement, “they would have, if approved, given a free pass to employers who almost always knowingly hire undocumented immigrants and expose them to on-the-job risks sufficiently severe that such workers have the highest employment-related injury rates in the country.”

In 2014, Pew Research estimated there were 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Maryland. 


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