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Monday, July 6, 2020

COVID Presumption Bill Stalled in the NJ Assembly - Action Urged

Legislation (A3999) that would make it easier for employees on the frontline of the coronavirus fight to get work-related benefits is now stalled in the NJ Assembly.

Senate Version Passed
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). The NJ Senate version of the proposed law was passed by the NJ Senate on May 14, 2020.

“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 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.

NJ AFL-CIO Urges Passage
Charles Wowkanech, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO president, recently expressed his opinion in 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 workers 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 workers 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 at the time the worker died. 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.”

“Our workers compensation system must be reformed to adapt to new workplace threats like the coronavirus. Legislation to fix these two problems have passed the State Senate with bipartisan support. Several other states have already taken action on these issues via Executive Order or by passing reform laws. The New Jersey state AFL-CIO urges the Assembly to do the same right away. The longer we wait, the longer many of our essential workers will suffer financially, deepening their plight and making their recovery from the virus that much more difficult”

The NJ AFL-CIO has establish a link requesting that interest parties  support the legislation by contacting their legislators immediately to urge passage of the NJ Assembly bill.

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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.

Twitter: jongelman
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Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" West-Thomson-Reuters