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Kansas undocumented workers can receive workers comp benefits: Court

Kansas undocumented workers can receive workers comp benefits: Court

Kansas workers compensation law allows undocumented workers to receive benefits if they were injured prior to state comp reforms enacted in 2011, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled.

Martha Fernandez worked for a McDonald's Corp. franchise in Topeka, Kan., and injured her back in August 2007 while lifting a box of meat, court records show. She was restricted to light duty work and returned to work in an accommodated position.

The Kansas Division of Workers Compensation informed McDonald's that Ms. Fernandez's Social Security number was invalid after the restaurant reported her injury, records show. Ms. Fernandez stopped coming to work after she was asked to present a Social Security card, and she was later confirmed to be unauthorized to work in the United States.

An administrative law judge ruled that Ms. Fernandez had a 7% permanent partial disability. However, the judge denied benefits for Ms. Fernandez, ruling that Kansas workers comp law aims to return injured employees to work and that undocumented workers cannot legally return to jobs in the United States.

The Kansas Workers Compensation Board ruled that the language of Kansas' workers comp law does not prevent undocumented workers from receiving benefits, and awarded Ms. Fernandez a 59% work disability, records show.

The Kansas Supreme Court unanimously upheld that ruling on Friday. In its opinion, the high court noted that that Kansas' workers comp law defines an employee as "any person who has entered into the employment of or works under any contract of service or apprenticeship with an employer.” It also said that the act does not explicitly exclude undocumented workers from receiving benefits.

"Pointedly, the definition of 'employee' does not require that the employment, contract of service, or apprenticeship involve a legal relationship or that the persons involved possess the requisite documentation to legally work within the United States," the ruling reads.

The ruling notes that Kansas workers comp reforms in 2011 require claimants to prove that they are legally authorized to work in the United States. The high court declined to evaluate whether those reforms would affect Ms. Fernandez's case because neither party raised the issue, and ruled in Ms. Fernandez's favor based on the date of her injury.

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