It has now been well over a month since the first confirmed novel coronavirus (COVID-19) diagnosis in New Jersey. According to the NJ Department of Health as of April 29, 2020, more than 116,000 people have already been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the state, many of whom may have contracted the virus while they were at work.
If you were infected with the novel coronavirus at work, can you file for workers’ compensation benefits? The answer is most likely, “Yes.” However, proving that you are entitled to benefits may prove to be a challenge.
COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation in New Jersey
Despite all of the unprecedented aspects of the COVID-19 crisis, when it comes to filing for workers’ compensation, seeking benefits for the novel coronavirus is fundamentally no different from seeking benefits for any other type of work-related illness or injury. If you are an eligible employee and you got sick at work, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under New Jersey law.
However, unlike occupational illnesses such as asbestosis and silicosis, it is possible to contract COVID-19 just about anywhere. This is why New Jersey (along with the majority of other states across the country) has issued a stay-at-home order and implemented social distancing guidelines. Currently, the only way to stop the spread of the virus is to prevent people who are sick from coming into contact with others.
Additionally, while COVID-19 has already tragically killed more than 225,000 people around the world, many people who contract the virus show no symptoms. As a result, if you come into contact with anyone anywhere, there is a chance that he or she could infect you.
All of this will make it difficult for many employees to file successful workers’ compensation claims related to the novel coronavirus.
How Do You Prove That Your COVID-19 Infection Is Work-Related?
In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation, you must suffer a job-related illness or injury. Simply being unable to work due to an illness or injury does not qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits. This fact, combined with the widespread nature of the risk of exposure to COVID-19, means that employers and their insurance companies are likely to dispute novel coronavirus workers’ compensation claims in many cases.
If this is a concern, how can you prove that your COVID-19 infection is work-related? One of the best things you can do is to adhere to New Jersey’s stay-at-home and social distancing orders. Only leave home for work (assuming you work for an “essential business”) and other essential activities, and do everything you can to protect yourself against the virus. If you can show that you were only in close proximity to other people while you were working, this would strengthen your potential claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
How Much Can You Recover for a COVID-19 Infection?
If you are eligible for workers’ compensation, you can recover your medical expenses plus a portion of your lost wages if your COVID-19 infection prevents you from working for more than seven days. As summarized by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, sick employees are eligible to receive, “temporary total benefits at a rate of 70% their average weekly wage, not to exceed 75% of the Statewide Average Weekly Wage (SAWW) or fall below the minimum rate of 20% of the SAWW. These benefits are provided during the period when a worker is unable to work and is under active medical care.”
If you have lost a loved one to the novel coronavirus contracted at work, you may be eligible to file a claim for workers’ compensation death benefits. These benefits cover 70% of your loved one’s weekly wage (subject to a maximum benefit amount), and will be distributed among your loved one’s eligible dependents.
What Other Options Do You Have Available?
For New Jersey workers and families who are not eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits, other options are available. For example, under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), employees are entitled to paid leave under various circumstances. At Petro Cohen, P.C., we are actively representing clients during the COVID-19 crisis, and our attorneys are available to discuss your legal rights in confidence.
Request a Free Phone Consultation with an Attorney at Petro Cohen, P.C.
While our four offices (Northfield, Cherry Hill, Hamilton, and Cape May Court House, NJ) have been closed since mid-March due to the virus and subsequent state mandates, our attorneys and team have remained hard at work handling cases. In addition, the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Court began process settlements virtually on April 6, so we have been working diligently to move forward with all cases ready to be resolved.
We understand that this has been a tremendously challenging time for southern New Jersey, along with the rest of the world, and are here to assist you in whatever ways we can. To reach any of our attorneys, dial (609) 677-1880 along with their direct extension number, which can be found on our Web site at: /attorneys/ You can also contact our attorneys directly via their individual e-mails (also found at: /attorneys/) or through our general e-mail address at: info@PetroCohen.com
As always, our hard working attorneys at Petro Cohen, P.C. take great pride in helping hard working people just like you. The workers’ comp team of lawyers has over 100 years of combined experience, having successfully handled tens of thousands of litigated workers’ compensation cases throughout New Jersey. This experience and winning track record means you have a law firm that make workers’ compensation work for you.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and you believe it was a result of your work, let Petro Cohen help. For a free and confidential consultation to learn more about your legal rights for workers’ compensation, please call us directly or contact us online.
Be sure to check Petro Cohen’s Firm News section for additional coronavirus updates regarding the offices, courts, and other important matters. Stay safe!