Tennessee Undocumented Worker Case Not Necessarily Clear Cut

F.J. Thomas

Nashville, TN (WorkersCompensation.com) – A recent case heard by the Tennessee Supreme Court highlights some complexities of the law regarding undocumented workers. In the case Salvador Sandoval V Mark Williamson, the question was posed as to whether or not an undocumented worker is entitled to increased benefits under federal preemption of Tennessee Workers Comp laws.

Undocumented worker, Salvador Sandoval sustained injuries during work for which he received settlement. Salvador failed to return to work at the end of initial compensation period and as a result requested permanent disability benefits as he is not eligible for work per definitions of the Federal Immigration Law. The move questioned the constitutionality of Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-207(3)(F) which does not allow undocumented workers to receive additional benefits.

The Court of Workers’ Compensations Claims’ position was that the court did not have the jurisdiction to make the determination and denied Sandoval’s request. The appeal was forwarded to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for review.

The final decision of the Supreme Court affirmed the previous findings of the trial court, and also ruled that Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-207(3)(F) is indeed constitutional.

The curious thing about this case is that an undocumented worker is eligible for an “original award” but is not eligible for “increased benefits.” In a recent commentary, Law professor Michael C. Duff said he believes the Tennessee statute creates an incentive for employers to hire undocumented workers as they are not entitled to the additional benefits. Duff also believes this issue will be revisited at some point.

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