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NJ Presumes Workers Compensation Coverage for Essential Workers Who Contract COVID-19

Oct 13, 2020 - Client Resources by

NJ Presumes Workers Compensation  Coverage for Essential Workers Who Contract COVID-19

By:  Matthew Harris, Esq.

Matthew R. Harris

Governor Phil Murphy signed law that immediately went into effect on September 14, 2020 that created a rebuttable presumption that, absent demonstrable proof to the contrary, “essential” workers who contract COVID-19 at work will be entitled to workers compensation coverage and benefits for their illness.  Notably, the law is retroactive to March 9, which was the date of the Governor’s initial executive order declaring a state of emergency.  Before this legislation was signed, only “public safety workers” such as police, fire, EMT, and medical personnel, were granted this presumption.

The law is now applicable to health care workers, public safety workers, and other essential employees. The presumption that a COVID-19 positive diagnosis is work-related may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence showing that the worker was not exposed to COVID-19 while working in the course of his or her essential employment. The “preponderance of the evidence” standard essentially means that an employer must prove “it was more likely than not” the employee contracted COVID-19 outside of work.

 

The law defines “essential employee” as “an employee in the public or private sector who during a state of emergency”:

  • is a public safety worker or first responder, including any fire, police or other emergency responders;
  • 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;
  • 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, 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
  • is any other employee deemed an essential employee by the public authority declaring the state of emergency.

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 the place of employment other than the individual’s own residence.

Benefits may include wage replacement for lost time from work due to the virus, or an award of permanent disability if the worker has not made a full recovery from COVID -19.