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Violating the U.S. Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 by not verifying employees' immigration status does not cause an employer to lose workers compensation law protections, a New York appeals court ruled.
Wednesday's ruling in New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens v. Microtech Contracting Corp. comes after a hospital's attempt to force a contractor to indemnify it for a lawsuit filed against the hospital by two “undocumented aliens” hired by Microtech, the contractor, to work on the hospital's property.
The two employees were injured on the job, and Microtech provided them with workers comp benefits, court records show.
But the employees also sued the hospital for their injuries. The hospital then commenced a separate action, seeking “contribution and indemnification” from the contractor, the court ruling states.
The contractor moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the hospital's claim for indemnification was barred by New York's workers comp law.
A trial court agreed with the contractor and the hospital appealed, contending that the contractor violated the federal IRCA law, which should result in the loss of work comp protections.
In its analysis of the case, the Appellate Division of the 2nd Judicial Department of New York pointed out that with very limited exceptions, New York's workers comp law is an employer's exclusive remedy to its employees.
The appellate court also pointed out that under New York's workers comp law, an employer may be held liable for contribution or indemnification only if the employee has sustained a grave injury or when the employer agreed to do so under a contract.
“Here, the complaint … does not allege that the subject employees sustained grave injuries, or that the defendant expressly agreed to contribution or indemnification in a written contract,” the court said. “Rather, the plaintiff asserted that the defendant failed to verify the immigration status of the subject employees and that this failure constituted a violation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.”
But the appellate court found that Congress did not intend for IRCA to pre-empt or undermine state labor laws.
“Furthermore, to accept the plaintiff's contention would not only effectively deny the defendant the economic protections it acquired under the workers compensation law in return for providing the subject employees with compensation for their injuries, but it would relieve the plaintiff of its responsibility to ensure a safe construction site for workers under the labor law,” the court said.
The trial court therefore properly granted the contractor's motion to dismiss the hospital's complaint, the appellate court ruled.