The NJ Legislature has now passed S2476. It provides supplemental benefit payments to the dependents of essential employees who died in the course of employment due to the contraction of coronavirus disease 2019.
The bill provides a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to the spouse or dependent's workers' compensation death benefit if that employee dies from the coronavirus. This adjustment is intended to mirror, to the extent possible, the COLA already in place for benefits for dependents of public safety workers killed in the line of duty.
The bill provides for the COLA to be an amount such that, when added to the workers' compensation weekly benefit rate initially awarded, the sum will bear the same percentage relationship to the maximum benefit rate at the time of the adjustment that the initial rate bore to the maximum rate at the time of the initial award, except that:
(1) the bill reduces the amount of the adjustment as much as necessary to ensure that the sum of the adjustment and the amount initially awarded does not exceed the amount which would cause any reduction of Social Security disability benefits;
(2) in cases which are not subject to the provisions of point one above, the bill reduces the supplemental workers' compensation benefits (but not regular workers' compensation) for claimants injured after 1979 by the amount of any Social Security benefits (other than Social Security disability benefits and any cost of living increases in Social Security benefits), Black Lung benefits, or the employer's share of disability pension payments received from or on account of an employer; and
(3) the bill requires that the COLA benefits will not be paid to any individual who elects to not receive benefits under the Federal Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Act for which the individual is eligible.
These reductions parallel the reductions provided under current law for claimants who were injured before 1980. The bill also provides that no supplemental benefits will be paid in any case in which they are calculated to be less than $5 per week.
Under the bill, "essential employee" is defined 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, 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.
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Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ 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 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 firstname.lastname@example.org has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.
Blog: Workers ' Compensation
LinkedIn Group: Injured Workers Law & Advocacy Group
Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" Thomson-Reuters