February 10, 2011

Proposed Georgia Legislation Seeks to Bar Workers’ Compensation Benefits to Undocumented Workers

By: Alissa C. Atkins, Esq.

On January 25, 2011, a bill was introduced in the Georgia Senate seeking to bar receipt of workers’ compensation benefits by those not legally authorized to work in the United States. The Senate’s First Reader Summary explains that the bill will amend O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1, which relates to general provisions of workers’ compensation, "so as to provide that benefits under such chapter shall not be paid to noncitizens who are not employed legally; to provide that such payments shall not be made unless the noncitizen is present in this country legally at the time such payments are made; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes."

The bill was sponsored by six senators, and introduced by Sen. Bill Heath, a Republican from Georgia’s 31st District. Please click here to read the full text of SB 7: http://www.davidandrosetti.com/newsletter/pdf/senatebill7.pdf

After the bill was read to the Senate on January 25th, it was sent to the Senate’s Insurance and Labor Committee for review and public hearings on the topic. The full Senate could vote on the bill in the next 30 to 45 days. The wording of the bill is subject to change, and therefore it is early to speculate on the potential ramifications if the bill is signed into law. Comparable bills have been introduced over the past several years in other states. The result has been the bills either languishing in committee or simply not garnering enough votes to become law. One source at the legislature suggests that the recent November 2010 elections showed increasing support across the country for conservative ideals, leading to renewed efforts at passing legislation to deal with the issue of undocumented workers. Similar bills are now also pending in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Montana.

As with much legislation, supporters and detractors of the bill have emerged. A number of Georgia claimant attorneys object to the bill. However, many employers and insurers have also expressed concerns about the potential effect the legislation will have on the future of Georgia’s workforce. The key points raised by each side are as follows:

Supporters of S.B.7 contend:

The bill intends to enforce federal employment laws already in existence;
Immigrants will not be prevented from working as long as they obtain proper documentation authorizing their employment;
The overall cost of workers’ compensation claims is expected to decrease, and as a result, workers’ compensation premiums could decrease for employers who comply with the terms of the new law;
Undocumented workers do not have an inalienable right to employment in the United States; and
The bill will not affect employers who only employ workers who are legally authorized to work in the United States.

Opponents of S.B.7 contend:

The bill will unfairly preclude undocumented workers from obtaining employment;
Unscrupulous employers may attempt to hire undocumented workers strictly to avoid exposure for potential workers’ compensation benefits;
If employers hire undocumented workers for this reason, applicants legally entitled to work in the United States will suffer as they will be more expensive to employ;
The exclusive remedy provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act would no longer apply. This provision requires workers to file claims for work-related injuries through the State Board of Workers’ Compensation (even when the worker was at fault or caused the accident) and provides employers with protection from lawsuits in other court systems. Since lawsuits based in tort may subject the liable party to exposure for pain and suffering, employers and insurers could potentially face higher costs for claims involving undocumented workers not otherwise covered by the Act; and
While farms are exempt from the Act, industries with production needs (migrant workers, construction and other fields) which are heavily reliant upon day laborers could be hard hit.

If you have questions or comments, please reply to this post or contact your David & Rosetti attorney at 404-446-4488 or by visiting our website at www.davidandrosetti.com.

Nothing contained in this blog should be construed as legal advice or opinion on specific facts. For editorial comments or suggestions, please contact David W. Willis at (404) 446-4491 or david.willis@davidandrosetti.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.