Court Discusses Workers’ Compensation Laws and Federal Employers

Generally, workers’ compensation laws are enacted by state rather than federal legislatures. This does not mean that state workers’ compensation laws do not apply to federal employers. As noted in a recent ruling issued by the United State Supreme Court, however, a state workers’ compensation statute cannot treat the federal government or its contractors less favorably than state employers. If you were injured while working for the federal government, you may be owed workers’ compensation benefits, and you should consult a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible.

History of the Case

It is alleged that in 2018, a state passed a workers’ compensation law that applied only to specific workers at a federal facility within the state who worked, either directly or indirectly, for the United States. The facility in question used to manufacture nuclear weapons but was in the process of being decontaminated. Most of the workers involved in the cleanup process were federal contractors or employees.

The United States brought a lawsuit against the state on the grounds that the law in question was unconstitutional. Specifically, the United States argued that it discriminated against the federal government in violation of the Supremacy Clause because it made it easier for federal workers to establish their right to workers’ compensation benefits, thereby increasing the government’s costs. The court found in favor of the state, and the United States appealed.

Workers’ Compensation Laws and Federal Employers

The Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling, finding that the law facially discriminated against the federal government and its contractors. As the federal government did not clearly and unambiguously waive its immunity from state laws that were discriminatory, the Court found the law unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause.

The Court explained that the Supremacy Clause prohibits states from interfering with or controlling the activities of the federal government. This intergovernmental immunity doctrine had evolved to ban state laws that either discriminated against or regulated the federal government and its contractors. The Court elaborated that a state law will discriminate against the federal government or its contractors if it distinguishes it for less favorable treatment or unfavorably regulates it on some grounds related to their governmental status.

In the subject case, the Court explained that the State law in question clearly singled out the federal government for unfavorable treatment. Thus, the Court deemed it unconstitutional, reversing the lower court ruling in favor of the state.

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

In most cases, employees who suffer harm in the workplace have the right to recover workers’ compensation benefits from their employers. If you were hurt at work, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss your rights. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who can aid you in pursuing the best legal outcome possible under the facts of your case. You can contact Mr. Meehan by calling 508-822-6600 or by using the form online to set up a meeting.