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Friday, August 7, 2020

NJ COVID Presumption Bill Sent to Gov. Pat Murphy to Sign - Update 3

Legislation (A3999) that would make it easier for employees on the frontline of the coronavirus fight to get work-related benefits is now advancing to NJ Governor Pat Murphy for signature. NJ has been an epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis and suffered some of the highest incidents of COVID illness and death 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. 

NJ Assembly Bill Passes Bill

  • On July 30, 2020 the bill passed along party lines with 41 for approval, 27 against, 7 abstentions, 5 not voting.
  • The NJ Senate version of the bill previously passed on a 27-17 vote.
  • The bill now goes to Governor Pat Murphy for signature.

Other States Have 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 workers of the State, and to assist in restoring the State's economy. Occupational illness based on a viral pandemic are 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 a guarantee of 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 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-quarrantine 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 Senate Already Approved

The proposed law, already approved by the NJ Senate, will provide "...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.

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.”

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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.

Blog: Workers ' Compensation

Twitter: jongelman

LinkedIn: JonGelman

LinkedIn Group: Injured Workers Law & Advocacy Group

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

Updated: 8/7/2020