The New Jersey Senate has passed a bill that proposes to provide expanded protections to workers who qualify as “essential employees” during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. If enacted, Senate Bill No. 2380 would, “create a presumption that coronavirus disease 2019 [COVID-19] infections contracted by essential employees, including but not limited to, health care workers and public safety workers, are work-related for the purpose of employment benefits provided for work-related injuries and illnesses, including but not limited to, workers’ compensation benefits.”
Since the emergence of COVID-19, there has been a significant amount of debate as to what would be necessary for an employee to prove that he or she contracted COVID-19 at work as opposed to on his or her own personal time. This distinction is crucial for purposes of workers’ compensation eligibility, as New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system only provides coverage for job-related illnesses and injuries. By creating a presumption that essential employees’ diagnoses are work-related, Senate Bill No. 2380 puts the onus on employers to prove that essential employees’ COVID-19 infections are not job-related illnesses.
Senate Bill No. 2380 is currently pending before the Assembly Labor Committee. You can view the current status of the bill on LegiScan.
Who Qualifies as an “Essential Employee”?
It is important to note that Senate Bill No. 2380 is not yet law; and, as such, it is subject to revision. Currently, however, the proposed law defines an “essential employee” as follows:
“’ Essential employee’ means that: (1) the employee is considered essential in support of gubernatorial or federally declared statewide emergency response and recovery operations; or (2) the employee is an employee in the public or private sector with duties and responsibilities, the performance of which is essential to the public’s health, safety, and welfare.”
New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, extended the state’s public health emergency declaration for an additional 30 days on June 5, 2020, and New Jersey has been under a statewide emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic since March 9, 2020. Crucially, Senate Bill No. 2380 proposes a retroactive effective date of March 9, meaning that essential employees will be able to file for workers’ compensation even if they contracted COVID-19 prior to the bill being signed into law.
Under Senate Bill No. 2380, “essential employees” include “health care workers” and “public safety workers.” The bill defines these terms as follows:
- “’Health care worker’ means an individual who is employed by a health care facility.”
- “’Public safety worker’ includes a member, employee, or officer of a paid, partially-paid, or volunteer fire or police department, force, company or district, including the State Police, a Community Emergency Response Team approved by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, or a correctional facility, or a basic or advanced medical technician of a first aid or rescue squad, or any other nurse, basic or advanced medical technician responding to a catastrophic incident and directly involved and in contact with the public during such an incident, either as a volunteer, member of a Community Emergency Response Team or employed or directed by a health care facility.”
When Can Essential Employees Who Contract COVID-19 File for Workers’ Compensation?
If Senate Bill No. 2380 is enacted into law in New Jersey, essential employees who have already contracted COVID-19 will be eligible to file workers’ compensation claims immediately (they can also file claims now – the presumption of eligibility just does not yet not apply). The bill does not have a sunset date, so essential employees who contract COVID-19 in the future will receive the benefit of the bill’s presumption with respect to their workers’ compensation claims as well. Critically, New Jersey’s existing workers’ compensation statute requires all employees to file their claims within 14 days of the date of illness or injury.
How Can Employers Overcome the Presumption That Essential Employees’ COVID-19 Infections Are Work-Related?
In order to overcome the presumption established by Senate Bill No. 2380, employers must establish, “by a preponderance of the evidence . . . that the worker was not exposed to the disease.” This means that an employer must have evidence showing that it is more likely than not that the employee’s diagnosis is not work-related.
Are You Entitled to Workers’ Compensation for a COVID-19 Infection?
Petro Cohen, P.C. is a New Jersey workers’ compensation law firm that has been helping sick and injured employees secure medical and disability benefits for decades.
We understand that the past few months of the pandemic have 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.
If you are faced with COVID or another type of work injury, don’t leave money on the table. To make sure that you receive all of the benefits that you rightfully deserve, we strongly recommend contacting a competent New Jersey worker’s comp lawyer who will serve as an advocate for you and help guide you through the entire process.
The reality is that the outcome of your case will largely depend on the skill of your New Jersey work injury attorney and the quality of your legal representation. Your attorney’s level of education, experience, track record, legal abilities, and reputation matter. Select Excellence!
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, Frank Petro, Suzanne Holz Meola, Terri Hiles, and Daniel Rosenthal, 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 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have any other type of work injury and would like to speak with one of our skilled workers’ compensation attorneys, we invite you to call us at 888-675-7607 or contact us online to schedule a free and confidential consultation.