Farm and Ranch Worker Exclusion from the Workers’ Compensation Act Declared Unconstitutional
On June 22, 2015, the Court of Appeals of the State of New Mexico declared the farm and ranch workers exclusion from the Workers’ Compensation Act to violate the Equal Protection Clause and therefore is unconstitutional pursuant to the New Mexico Constitution. It is unclear at this time whether the Workers’ Compensation Administration will ask the New Mexico Supreme Court to review that determination.
If the Court of Appeals’ Opinion and determination remains effective, it could have greater implications than just nullifying the farm and ranch workers exclusion. For example, Section 52-1-6 NMSA provides that the “provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act shall not apply to employers of private domestic servants. . . .” That exclusion from the Workers’ Compensation Act will be questionable. Also, Section 52-1-6 NMSA provides that the “provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act shall apply to employers of three or more workers. . . .” Can a rational distinction be made between the employer of two workers as compared to an employer of three workers?
The Workers’ Compensation Act is always the subject of intense scrutiny by the New Mexico Legislature. What action the Legislature may take remains to be seen in the coming months. The Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council will undoubtedly be reviewing the ruling and potentially making recommended legislative changes.
The Opinion “shall apply to workers’ claims that were pending as of March 30, 2012, and that were filed thereafter.” Thus, farm and ranch employers who were formerly excluded from compliance with the Workers’ Compensation Act should immediately comply with New Mexico law by purchasing workers’ compensation insurance coverage.
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