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Workers comp exemption for farm workers struck down

Posted On: Jun. 26, 2015 12:00 AM CST

The New Mexico Court of Appeals this week struck down a longstanding provision of the state’s workers compensation law that exempts certain workers on ranches and farms from coverage.

The decision, which consolidated separate appeals by two workers challenging the constitutionality of the exclusion, found the exclusion unconstitutional, noting that the New Mexico Constitution provides that no person shall be denied equal protection of the laws.

“Under the exclusion, workers whose primary duties are essential to the cultivation of crops are considered farm laborers, while workers involved primarily in the processing of the same crops are not,” the ruling states. “This distinction is seemingly without purpose or reason and leads to absurd results. In some instances, employees working for the same agricultural employer may not all be covered under the Worker’s Compensation Act.”

Indeed, the decision stated that the judges failed to see any real differences between farm and ranch laborers and all other workers in New Mexico that would justify the exclusion, which was added to the law in 1937.

“We fail to see any real differences between workers who fall under the statutory definition of a farm and ranch laborer and workers who do not,” the ruling states. “Moreover, excluding farm and ranch laborers from workers’ compensation coverage directly controverts the purpose and evenhanded philosophy of the Act by placing farm and ranch employers at an advantage and denying workers the benefits the Act was intended to provide. Legislative classifications that are arbitrary and oppressive without any rational basis are the most objectionable.”

Moreover, noting that a state district court had declared the exclusion to be unconstitutional on March 30, 2012, the appeals court made their decision retroactive to that date.