Proposed Bill to Exclude Immigrants from Worker’s Compensation Threatens Safety of All Montana Workers

January 11, 2011Shahid Haque

Yesterday, Rep. Gordon Vance proposed HB 71, a bill that would prevent certain immigrants from being able to collect worker’s compensation benefits if they are injured on the job.  As discussed below, this bill threatens the safety of all workers in Montana.  I testified against this bill, along with the Montana Human Rights Network and the ACLU, among others.  Emilie Ritter, with Montana Public Radio, prepared a radio story on this harmful bill, and included some of my testimony in the report.  John Adams from the Great Falls Tribune also wrote about the bill and quoted from my testimony.The following are my arguments against the bill:

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee:

  • I oppose this bill, because it would create a perverse incentive for employers to hire undocumented workers.
    • Current law states that claims must be paid to “aliens and minors, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed.”  MCA § 39-71-118(a).  To ensure the safety of the workplace, the law was designed to ensure that all workers were covered by worker’s compensation.
    • Eliminating worker’s compensation to “unauthorized aliens” will do nothing to deter employers from hiring unauthorized workers.  Instead, it would actually create an incentive for unscrupulous employers to hire such workers, because they won’t have to worry about worker’s compensation claims being made against them.
    • This would decrease workplace safety for all employees. If the employer pays less attention to workplace safety for unauthorized aliens who cannot recover benefits, this would impact the safety of other authorized employees as well.
    • Imagine a construction company that works in dangerous conditions.  If that business has experienced several injuries and its worker’s compensation premiums have gone up, it might have an incentive to knowingly hire unauthorized workers who can’t make worker’s compensation claims.
    • This bill has the potential to create a class of “disposable” workers who are sent to work in dangerous conditions without fear for their safety.
  • This bill would harm employers as well as workers.
    • Worker’s compensation claims are considered an “exclusive remedy,” meaning that an injured worker cannot sue in court for personal injury.  They have no choice but to go through the worker’s compensation system.
    • If aliens are excluded from this scheme, they will have no choice but to sue employers in court for personal injury.  This would result in costly litigation.
  • The Department has no expertise in immigration law, and is not qualified to determine whether an employee is an “unauthorized alien.”
    • There is no law stating that the Department of Homeland Security has to check into requests by the state to confirm lawful status.  How will insurance companies make their determinations that someone is unauthorized?  They are not qualified to make such determinations.
  • The language of this bill also creates significant ambiguity as to which aliens are covered by worker’s compensation.  It seems to indicate that many aliens who are lawfully present with work authorization actually won’t be covered.
  • There is simply no need for this bill.
    • When an employer hires an employee, federal law requires the employer to verify employment authorization.  If an employer hires an unauthorized alien, that alien is their responsibility just like any other worker.  The employer should pay any compensation for injuries that occurred on their watch!

Regardless of the motivations behind this bill, it would only succeed in making the workplace less safe for all Montana workers.  I urge legislators to vote against this dangerous bill.If you agree, please click here to write to your Senators and Representatives to let them know.

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