In a move that distinguished New Jersey from many other states, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 2380 into law on September 14, 2020, providing workers’ compensation coverage to essential workers.
This law is a rebuttable presumption, meaning that it is assumed by the court that workers’ compensation benefits extend to essential employees until the decision is contested and proven otherwise. This law took effect upon its signing on September 14 and was retroactively applied to March 9, 2020, when Governor Murphy first declared a state of emergency.
Under the law, an 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 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
- (4) is any other employee deemed an essential employee by the public authority declaring the state of emergency.”
Emergency Employees outside of Medical and Healthcare Providers
The bill makes the distinction that any employee who is given the option to work from home during a state of emergency is not considered an essential employee. The line blurs in considering what is an essential employee, if not someone working from home. For this reason, the fourth component of the definition of an essential employee is broad. In this case, the “public authority declaring the state of emergency” is Governor Murphy, and any directives he gives that specifically name members of the community as essential employees not subject to quarantining protocol, for example, are to be upheld by this law. Some examples of employees that may be considered emergency employees and fall outside of the realm of medical and healthcare providers, which are traditionally seen as essential employees, are
- employees of pharmacies
- grocery store employees
- childcare providers to essential employees
- gas station employees
- select market cashiers
- construction workers
What kind of coverage is afforded to Essential Employees?
With the definition of essential employee established, the consideration shifts to what kind of coverage is afforded in the case that an essential employee contracts Covid-19. Under SB2380, if an essential employee contracts Covid-19 while they are working outside of their own home, they are eligible to receive full workers’ compensation benefits for their medical treatment and lost pay.
The fact that this law is a rebuttable presumption means that an employer can argue that the employee was not at risk of contracting the virus during working hours. This can be shown through the provision of evidence of safety measures and hygiene protocols limiting contact with others. In some cases, it can also be shown by proving that the employee was unsafely in close contact with others outside of work.
Experience Modification Factor
Fortunately for employers, workers’ compensation claims that relate to this rebuttable presumption providing coverage for Covid-19 illness are not calculated towards the company’s Experience Modification Factor. The Experience Modification Factor is a company’s safety rating that determines what their workers’ compensation premium will be. A company whose safety protocols and systems lead to fewer injuries and thus workers’ compensation claims receive a lower Experience Modification Factor. Those that have a higher percentage of workers’ compensation claims have a higher Experience Modification Factor. If a company’s workers’ compensation claims are amplified due to Covid-19 cases on the workforce, their safety score and insurance premium rate will not be adversely affected.
Rise in claimes due to COVID requires patience from employees
Because the signing of the bill into law took retroactive effect beginning when the initial state of emergency was called in March, employers expected the rise in workers’ compensation claims filed during that time. They were advised to handle new Covid-19-related claims as they would other claims. The backlog in addressing the claims has proven problematic for many companies who have already seen a decrease in the workforce due to sickness, and employers are advised to patiently await results while maintaining awareness of the timeframe passed.
Contact Our Mercer County Workers Compensation Attorneys Today
If you consider you have a claim and reside in Mercer County, Trenton, Princeton, and Hamilton, please contact us online or through our Trenton, NJ office at (609) 528-2596, for a free and confidential consultation regarding your case options for recovering compensation.