In AZ, a Worker’s Status is (Usually) ‘Not Relevant’ After a Claim is Filed

10.25.2017


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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Phoenix, AZ (WorkersCompensation.com) – Undocumented workers in Arizona do receive workers’ compensation benefits under state law. The state identifies “aliens” as “employees,” thanks to a 2003 court case.

“If an undocumented worker does file a claim, they enjoy full benefits including medical and indemnity,” said Matt Fendon, a workers’ compensation attorney in Phoenix. He describes a “good chunk” of his clients to be undocumented immigrants.

Fendon said a worker’s status as undocumented or illegal is not taken into consideration once the claim is filed.

“Not really,” he said. “It’s a frequent occurrence where undocumented immigrants are injured on the job here on the job in Arizona and basically it doesn’t matter whether they are documented or undocumented.”

He said it’s also the case where people who are working under a false identification, meaning a differing name or Social Security number, also receive benefits.

“If they are injured on the job, the insurance carrier will dispute whether or not they are hurt occasionally from time to time, but as far as them using another person’s identity none of my clients have suffered any repercussions,” he said.

In a study published in 2014, the Pew Research Center said they believe Arizona was home to around 325,000 illegal immigrants. That number rose from 300,000 in 2012. According to the Phoenix New Times, Mexicans make up the largest portion of illegal immigrants in Arizona at 52 percent.

In some states, like Florida: Once a workers’ comp claim is filed, those who are illegal can be quickly deported. Fendon said it has happened in Arizona, but has not happened to one of his clients.

Fendon said he does not ask a prospective client if the Social Security number they are using is false.

“It’s really not relevant,” he said.

However, at least one workers’ compensation insurance company said the identification issue is a problem when an undocumented worker uses someone else’s identification to gain employment.

“When they file the claim, they want it paid in their real name,” said Sherri Scruggs, a regional underwriter for AmTrust in Scottsdale. “The employer immediately terminated their employment once they were made aware.”

She said AmTrust would not defend an employer who hired an undocumented worker who was caught by the state and later found to have to pay fines.

“That is not covered under the policy,” she said.

Regardless of immigration status, loss of wages and indemnity are covered under what Scruggs said is part one of the policy. Medical bills are also covered. 

Scruggs said she’s aware of a case where a worker suffered a severed limb and he chose to go back to Mexico.

“However in that case, severed limbs only have a lifespan of about 7 years,” she said. “So every (7) years, he’s supposed to come back to the United States and get a new limb.”

What happens in between?  Scruggs said she believes he would have to come back to the U.S. to be treated, because workers’ comp benefits are only good in the U.S.

She said that does not include territories.

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