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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Senator Sweeney Bill Would Expand NJ Workers’ Comp Benefits for ‘Essential Workers’ Sickened in COVID Crisis

Senate President introduces legislation making it easier for employees on the front lines of coronavirus fight to get work-related benefits.

Acting to ensure that ‘essential workers’ serving public needs during the coronavirus crisis get the benefits and protections they deserve, Senate President Steve Sweeney today introduced legislation expanding access to workers’ compensation and other benefits for front-line workers sickened by the coronavirus.

“The men and women who are on the front lines protecting our health and safety and providing the vital services we all need during this crisis must be assured that they have basic worker protections and that they can get workers’ compensation if they fall ill to the coronavirus,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland).

“Health care professionals, public safety officials, grocery store clerks, pharmacy staff and other essential workers who contract the virus, are exposed to anyone infected, or need to be quarantined should be entitled to full workers’ benefits,” he said. “In this unprecedented public health crisis, it is more important than ever that basic protections for those workers who interact with the public and increase their own risk of exposure should be maintained.”

The Sweeney bill would create a presumption that coronavirus disease infections contracted by essential employees who interact with the public, including health care workers and public safety workers, are work-related for the purpose of determining employment benefits for work-related injuries and illnesses, including workers’ compensation benefits. It would cover workers in the public and private sectors.

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 bill also would establish that an essential employee’s absence from work due to an employee contracting or being exposed to coronavirus disease will be considered “on duty” time, and prohibits employers from charging that employee for paid leave.

“We are grateful to the hundreds of thousands of essential workers providing the critical services we need to enable most New Jerseyans to work at home and shelter in place in order to slow the spread of this deadly disease,” Senator Sweeney said. “We need to ensure that they can go to work with the knowledge that these benefits will be there if they need them.”

Session 2020-2021
Bill S2380:
Sweeney, Stephen M./Scutari, Nicholas P./Singer, Robert W.
Concerns employment benefits and coronavirus disease 2019 infections contracted by essential employees.
5/4/2020 Introduced And Referred To Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
5/11/2020 Transferred To Senate Labor Committee
5/11/2020 Reported Senate Committee Substitute 2nd Reading
5/14/2020 Passed Senate (27-10)

This bill creates a rebuttable presumption that coronavirus disease 2019 contracted by health care workers, public safety workers, and other essential employees, is work-related and fully compensable for the purpose of workers’ compensation benefits and other employment benefits provided for work-related injuries and illnesses.

The bill defines “essential employee” as an employee in the public or private sector who, during a state of emergency:

1. is a public safety worker or first responder, including any fire, police or other emergency responders;

2. is involved in providing medical and other healthcare services, emergency transportation, social services, and other care services, including services provided in health care facilities, residential facilities, or homes;

3. performs functions which involve physical proximity to members of the public and are essential to the public's health, safety, and welfare, including transportation services, hotel and other residential services, financial services, and the production, preparation, storage, sale, and distribution of essential goods such as food, beverages, medicine, fuel, and supplies for conducting essential business and work at home; or

4. is any other employee deemed an essential employee by the public authority declaring the state of emergency.

The bill provides that workers’ compensation claims paid as a result of the rebuttable presumption provided by the bill shall are not to be considered in calculating an employer’s Experience Modifier Rate or otherwise affect an employer’s insurance premium rate for the employer’s workers’ compensation policy.

The bill is retroactive to March 9, 2020, the date of Governor Murphy’s declaration of state of emergency with respect to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

Related information:

Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.

Blog: Workers ' Compensation
Twitter: jongelman
LinkedIn: JonGelman
LinkedIn Group: Injured Workers Law & Advocacy Group
Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" West-Thomson-Reuters

Updated: 05/15/2020

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