COVID Workers' Compensation benefits
A new law makes it easier for employees on the frontline of the coronavirus fight to get work-related benefits. New Jersey has been an epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis and suffered some of the highest COVID illness and death incidents in the US. NJ was initially caught off guard as the COVID virus entered the State from Europe through the major NJ/NY Airports undetected. The law creates a presumption that the coronavirus of essential workers is related to their work.
This presumption as to causal relationship makes it easier for essential workers to receive NJ workers' compensation benefits. (N.J.S.A. 34:15-31.12). "The burden of proof was liberalized for essential workers during the coronavirus [COVID-19] pandemic. A rebuttable presumption was created that coronavirus disease 2019 contracted by health care workers, public safety workers, and other essential employees is work-related and compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act." Gelman, Jon L, Workers’ Compensation Law, 38 NJPRAC § 9.24.50. Infectious disease and pandemics (Thomson-Reuters 2023).
Other States Already Have A Similar Law
The presumption legislation has already been adopted and or implemented by executive order in many other jurisdictions. The presumption would apply to essential employees in both the public and private sectors who perform needed work during the current public health emergency and would be retroactive to March 9th, when New Jersey’s State of Emergency was declared.
The law is seen as critical to adequately protect the State's workers and assist in restoring the State's economy. Occupational illness based on a viral pandemic is difficult to prove, and workers who become ill now lack the necessary benefits, including Temporary disability, Medical Benefits, and Permanent Disability. Workers fear returning to work without guaranteed viable workers' compensation insurance for the virus. Additionally, workers are deeply concerned that if they work the "frontlines" of the battle against the virus and succumb, their families and dependents will not be adequately financially protected.
Gov. Murphy Has Taken the Lead
NJ has responded to the virus under the very popular leadership of Gov. Pat Murphy, who has been instrumental, working tirelessly with his team in containing the epidemic. NJ now has one of the lowest rates of infection, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID in the entire nation. The State has methodically re-opened slowly, based on science and data, and not political or emotional pressure. NJ has restricted re-entry into the State by imposing self-quarantine restrictions and has a very strong public policy urging and requiring face masks. NJ has become a model for the nation to follow in many aspects to contain COVID, including contact tracing and testing.
NJ AFL-CIO Supported the Law
Charles Wowkanech, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO president, recently expressed his opinion on the USA Today Network. He said, “One of the biggest takeaways from this pandemic is that our frontline “essential” workers are falling through the “safety net” of programs designed to help them during a crisis. Our Legislature and State government must recognize that some of our social safety net programs are either broken or woefully inadequate and work to fix them.”
“Currently, our worker’s compensation system requires workers to prove that they were injured at their place of employment. For many physical accidents, this “burden of proof” is not a burden at all; it’s entirely appropriate for injuries or fatalities on the job site and can be easily documented for a worker's compensation claim. However, for occupational diseases or infections acquired at the place of work, the “burden of proof” requirement often results in workers being denied workers compensation coverage.”
“Furthermore, when an essential worker dies of a COVID-19 infection contracted at work, their spouse or other beneficiaries lose a significant amount of family earnings. Their dependency benefit is forever stuck at a percentage of the worker’s salary when the worker dies. It’s never adjusted for inflation or recalculated for increased future earnings. That’s a significant financial loss for that family — all because that worker died in their role as an “essential” worker, providing health care, goods, and services to the rest of society during the pandemic.”
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The author, Jon L. Gelman, practices law in Wayne, NJ. He is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (Thomson-Reuters). For over five decades, the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 firstname.lastname@example.org have represented injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.
© 2023 Jon L Gelman. All rights reserved.
Recommended Citation: Gelman, Jon L., COVID Workers' Compensation benefits, www.gelmans.com (2023), https://www.gelmans.com/ReadingRoom/tabid/65/ArtMID/1482/ArticleID/1084/preview/true/Default.aspx