September 16, 2020 – Northfield, NJ – On Monday, September 14, 2020, an important new provision to the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act became law. It is designed to make it easier and quicker for “essential employees” to obtain full workers’ compensation benefits if they contract Covid-19 as a result of their exposure at work. This is the first Covid-19 specific legislation enacted into workers’ compensation law.
The new law is retroactive to March 9, 2020. It creates a “rebuttable presumption” that any “essential employee” who contracts Covid-19 when performing employment functions while interacting with the public, during the public health emergency declared by Governor Murphy’s previous executive orders, is entitled to New Jersey Workers’ Compensation benefits.
There are three requirements to be entitled to the new protection:
1) The employee must be considered an “essential employee”
2) The “essential employee must have interacted with the public
3) The employee develops Covid-19
Such a claim can still be contested by the employer, but the burden is then on the employer to prove that either there was no employment exposure, the infection occurred outside the scope of employment, and/or the employee is not an “essential” employee. Once it is determined that the claim is compensable, full workers’ compensation benefits apply including temporary disability benefits, all reasonable and necessary medical treatment, and possibly permanent partial or permanent total disability benefits depending upon the severity of the infection.
The new law does not prevent other “non-essential” employees from making workers’ compensation occupational exposure claims for Covid-19, but the burden of proof in such claims is upon the employee to prove that a specific employment exposure was more likely than not a material cause of his or her illness. There are other sections of the workers’ compensation law that potentially apply. Such claims are often complex, time consuming, and with uncertain outcomes. The new law was specifically designed to make the full receipt of workers’ compensation benefits for exposed essential workers more easily and quickly obtainable.
It is important to note, that the “essential employee” designation includes many more occupations than merely first responders and the health care profession.
Click here to read details of the new law, which includes the full definition of “essential employees.” For additional info, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to answer any questions or address any issues you might have.