The Third Department recently held that aliens who obtain employment using fraudulent documents in violation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) are not precluded from receiving benefits under New York State Workers’ Compensation Law. In Amoah v. Malah Management, LLC., 2008 N.Y. Slip Op. 08228 (3d Dept. 2008) applying the doctrine of conflict preemption, the court found that the New York State Workers’ Compensation law was not preempted by the IRCA.
Claimant Amoah used a friend’s Social Security card and other documents to obtain employment; he was then injured at work and received workers’ compensation benefits under his friend’s name. When Amoah refused to share his benefit award, his friend took back the identification documents. Amoah informed his employer’s workers’ compensation carrier of his real identity and the carrier contested the payment of benefits because Amoah had used fraudulent documents to obtain employment. The Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed the ruling of the Workers’ Compensation Law Judge that the claimant’s use of fraudulent documents did not preclude the award of benefits.
The Third Department expanded on the Court of Appeals ruling in Balbuena v. IDR Realty, LLC, 6 N.Y.3d 338 (2006), that the purpose of the IRCA is to combat the employment of undocumented workers and that such objective would be furthered by state law imposing liability on employers for their undocumented workers’ injuries. In Balbuena, the court relied on the fact that there was no proof of a criminal violation of the IRCA; in Amoah, the Third Department held that the presence of a criminal violation by the claimant does not change the outcome. The court held that the IRCA prohibitions against using fraudulent documents to obtain employment should be viewed in the context of the employer’s obligations and limiting the claim of an injured undocumented alien could lessen an employer’s incentive to provide a safe workplace for all employees. Therefore, limiting benefits “would actually provide an economic incentive to employers to violate IRCA by disregarding the employment verification system and would undermine IRCA’s primary goal of combating the employment of undocumented workers.” Further, preempting the state law and denying benefits to injured unauthorized workers is unlikely to bolster the purpose of the IRCA by deterring illegal aliens from using fraudulent documents to obtain employment.
Marissa A. Coheley