Iowa Supreme Court: Undocumented workers eligible for workers' comp benefits

Case involved undocumented employee for Proctor & Gamble in Iowa City

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that undocumented workers are eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits.

The case, Staff Management v. Jimenez, wound its way up through the court system after Pascuala Jimenez, an undocumented worker from Mexico, had two hernias while assigned to a job at Proctor & Gamble in Iowa City through temporary employment agency Staff Management.

Before her injury, she worked as a line leader and supervisor, packing shampoo bottles into boxes and placing boxes onto pallets.

In 2007, Jimenez began having abdominal pain and was later diagnosed with two hernias, which required surgery. She continued to have pain and complications after her surgery, which affected her ability to work.

By January 2008, Staff Management fired Jimenez, stating that Jimenz did not have authorization to work in the United States. The temp agency said it was notified in November 2006 through E-Verify, a federal program that verifies employment authorization, that her name and social security number did not match with social security records.

Jimenez and Staff Management were at odds over the decision for her termination. Jimenez claimed it was because of her injury, while the temp agency said it was due to her undocumented worker status.

Jimenez's health problems persisted and in July 2009, claiming that her persistent problems stemmed from her initial surgery, she applied for workers' compensation benefits. A deputy workers' compensation commissioner ordered Staff Management to pay for her medical expenses and future medical care, but the temp agency appealed the ruling, stating that Jimenez was ineligible for benefits under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act because she was an undocumented worker."

The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that an undocumented worker is within the state's meaning of an employee, that "an employment contract with an undocumented worker does not inherently have an illegal purpose, and it is [ed. not] void as illegal merely because the contract is with an undocumented worker," and that the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which makes it unlawful for employers to hire undocumented workers, does not preempt Iowa workers' compensation law.

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