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Court Rules Undocumented Workers Can Sue For Retaliation Over Workers' Compensation Claims

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reached a ruling that allows undocumented workers to sue their employer if they believe they have been retaliated against for filing a worker's compensation claim. The Appeals Court's ruling reversed a decision by the Hardeman County Court, claiming that Tennessee workers have the right to file a workers' comp claim regardless of their legal status to work in the country.

The case revolves around an undocumented Tennessee worker who injured his back while working for a manufacturer of torque converters. The worker informed his employer of the injury and received medical care from a doctor assigned by the employer. After having trouble receiving his workers' comp, the worker hired a local attorney.

Shortly after the injured worker's attorney contacted the employer, the worker was confronted about his workers' comp claim and fired for "lack of work."

The worker proceeded to file a wrongful termination claim against his employer, alleging that he had been fired solely because he had filed for workers' compensation. The employer argued that should not be able to bring a lawsuit against the company because as an undocumented worker, he was "not capable of performing the job."

The Hardeman County court ruled in favor of the employer, but that ruling was ultimately reversed by the Appeals Court, saying that "the ability" of an undocumented worker "to file a retaliatory discharge is a natural extension of what is already permitted in Tennessee" under workers comp law.

The issue of whether or not undocumented workers should be eligible for workers' compensation has been highly contested throughout the country and the application of the law varies from state to state.

States such as Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma have explicitly included undocumented workers in the workers' comp plans, while Wyoming exclude undocumented workers from receiving compensation for on-the-job injuries. In some states, current case law has yet to make a ruling, but the vast majority of states do allow for undocumented workers to file a workers' comp claim.