Typically, to receive workers’ compensation in New Jersey, an employee must prove they suffered a job-related illness or injury.
A recent law creates a presumption during the ongoing public health crisis that essential employees’ illnesses are related to their work. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill (SB) 2380 into law. SB 2380 creates a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19 cases contracted by “essential employees” during a public health emergency declared by the executive order of the governor. The law is effective immediately and retroactive to March 9, 2020.
The law defines an essential employee as an employee in public or private sector who during a state of emergency
Public Safety Worker or First Responder
- including any fire, police, or other emergency responders
Providing Care Related Services
- medical and other healthcare services, emergency transportation, social services, and other care services, including services provided in health care facilities, residential facilities, or homes
Essential Roles in Close Proximity to the Public
- performs functions that 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
Deemed Essential Employee by Public Authority
- Any other employee deemed an essential employee by the public authority declaring the state of emergencies such as grocery store workers, pharmacy employees, medical supply stores, gas station attendants, convenience store employees, cashiers and store clerks, childcare employees, or construction workers.
What Does the Law Say?
Under the law, in a public health emergency declared by the governor, if an individual contract COVID-19 during a time in which the individual is working as an essential employee in a place of employment other than the individual’s own residence, there will be a rebuttable presumption that the contraction of the disease is work-related and fully compensable for workers’ compensation benefits. A rebuttable presumption is an assumption made by a court taken to be true unless someone comes forward to contest it and prove otherwise. For example, a defendant in a criminal case is presumed innocent until proved guilty. A rebuttable presumption is often associated with prima facie evidence.
An employer may rebut this presumption by a preponderance of the evidence showing that the worker was not exposed to the disease while working in a place of employment other than the individual’s own residence.
Establishing a presumption of compensability for certain essential workers during the pandemic has become a growing trend among states that significantly lessens an employee’s burden of proving that a COVID-19–related illness is compensable under workers’ compensation laws. Details of these state law amendments vary. In states that have implemented a rebuttable presumption, such as New Jersey, employers will face the difficult burden of proving that an alleged COVID-19 contraction is not work-related. However, while employers in these states may be faced with an uptick in workers’ compensation claims, employers will also likely be insulated from civil liability pursuant to the workers’ compensation bar, absent some exceptions to the bar, such as the intentional injury exception.
How Will This Impact Employers?
This law will encourage the filing of workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19 infections. It makes defending an occupational infection case much harder for employers. This law provides that losses associated with workers’ compensation claims are not be included in calculating an employer’s Experience Modifier Rate or otherwise affect an employer’s insurance premium rate for the employer’s workers’ compensation policy. This would provide some protection to employers against any increased premiums.
It is not new for New Jersey to take such proactive measures to protect its public safety employees. New Jersey was at the forefront in creating protection for first responders, including first aid and rescue squad members, police, correction officers, nurses, medical technicians, and other medical personnel with the Canzanella Act‘s passage in July 2019, which created a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for those who can establish evidence of exposures to communicable diseases in the workplace. This Act was already being applied to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this latest presumption greatly expands the definition of “essential employees” to many individuals working in the private sector.
Contact Trenton NJ Workers Compensation Lawyers Today
Our team’s skill, and dedication to your family, can make all the difference in securing compensation for the unwarranted loss of your loved one in Trenton, Princeton, Hamilton, and the greater Mercer County area.
It is good to know that protection for essential workers and compensation is available if needed. If you have a workers’ compensation case, feel free to contact The Law Office of Cohen & Riechelson online or through our Hamilton office at 609.528.2596. We look forward to working with you.