Georgia used to be one of 16 states that had enacted some sort of exemption to workers’ compensation coverage for farm or agricultural laborers. Now, it’s one of just 15 states, after the New Mexico Supreme Court handed down a ruling striking workers’ compensation exemptions for farms and ranches as unconstitutional.
The case is Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy, and the decision casts uncertainty as to the future of the law in Georgia and other states. To be clear: This decision won’t immediately impact Georgia workers. Because each state is in charge of handling its own workers’ compensation system, a conflict between states on an issue like this isn’t likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, a ruling of this nature by a sister court is one that could open the door for a similar challenge here in Georgia.
According to court records, the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act, since its inception in 1917 through its most recent update in 2015, has never required employers to provide workers’ compensation to farm and ranch laborers. Three farm and ranch laborer workers appealed denial of their workers’ compensation injury claims on grounds state statute is illegal under the state’s equal protection clause. The statute specifies that in order to be legal, any discriminatory classifications in economic or social legislation have to be founded on some real difference of situation or condition that reasonably justifies a different rule for the class that suffers the discrimination. Continue reading →