ANNAPOLIS-A ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals has cemented the rights of undocumented workers to receive workers’ compensation. The case was the first in Maryland to address the issue, and some believe the ruling will help to deter the recruitment of undocumented workers to hazardous work sites.
The court ruled on Monday that Diego E. Lagos, an employee injured while working for Design Kitchen and Baths in August 2001, was entitled to workers’ compensation despite the fact that he is an undocumented worker.
James Forrester, the attorney for Design Kitchen and Baths and its insurer, Princeton Insurance Co., said they appealed the initial ruling because until now, Maryland law was unclear on illegal immigrants’ rights to workers’ compensation.
Luiz R.S. Simmons, Lagos’s attorney and a delegate from Montgomery County in the Maryland General Assembly, said the ruling will have an impact across the state.
“It will affect tens of thousands of workers in Maryland who are not documented and work in the most hazardous kinds of occupations. They lose eyes. They lose limbs. They are even killed. It will have an impact on these people and their families because they will continue to enjoy the protection they need,” Simmons said.
A. Harold DuBois, an attorney and member of the board of directors for the Workers Injury Law and Advocacy Group, said this was a significant decision because “a lot of immigrants are reluctant to make claims and are reluctant to hire lawyers. Now they realize they do have some rights.”
“Whether a person is undocumented or not shouldn’t come up in a claim,” he said.
Beyond the security of receiving workers’ compensation, Simmons said the ruling will also have other benefits.
“One of the collateral consequences of the ruling is that it will help to discourage unscrupulous employers from hiring undocumented workers and putting them in risky situations. If you are requiring everyone to be covered, you are taking away the incentive to look for and recruit undocumented workers,” Simmons said. “If you have tens of thousands of undocumented workers you try to create an environment where employers are discouraged not encouraged to hire them.”
Simmons said if undocumented workers would not receive workers’ compensation they would be sought out by employers because it is cheaper to hire them.
Thomas Patrick O’Reilly, the chair of the Maryland State Workers’ Compensation Commission, said he does not anticipate a significant financial impact resulting from the ruling.