NJBIA is asking Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislature to work together to nullify a law signed in 2020 which creates a legal presumption that an essential workers’ contraction of COVID-19 during a declared public health emergency is work-related.
Gov. Murphy’s reinstatement of New Jersey’s public health emergency in January, and its 30-day extension on Thursday, also reactivated this law – once again leaving employers vulnerable to workers’ compensation claims or litigation, even though the virus can literally be transmitted anywhere by anyone at any time.
“Over the past two years, and particularly during the recent omicron surge, it has been made abundantly clear that COVID-19 can be transmitted just about anywhere as people go about their daily lives,” said NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas.
“It is unreasonable that employers, under the conditions of the health emergency, are still legally obligated to show by a preponderance of evidence – as the law states – that an exposure did not occur at their workplace if a workers’ compensation claim is filed.
“Our employers have enough burdens to contend with in New Jersey, whether they are fiscal, legal or regulatory. As there is no established data on workplace contractions versus anywhere else, and as most businesses proactively take steps to protect their employees and customers, it is only appropriate that our policymakers absolve our job creators of another vulnerability coming out of the pandemic.”
NJBIA is making the ask of policymakers to relieve employers of this far-reaching law amid some New Jersey law firms soliciting essential workers who believe they contracted COVID-19 at work to file workers’ compensation claims.
There have also been recent media reports of employees faking positive COVID-19 tests to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
“We continue to encourage employers to do what most have been doing for two years now – stay vigilant in following health guidelines to the best of your ability,” Buteas said. “At the same time, we ask our policymakers to relieve our employers of a liability that is patently unfair.”
The wide range of employers qualifying as essential, under bill S-2380, signed into law by Gov. Murphy in September 2020, includes:
· Public safety workers or first responders
· Those involved in providing medical and other healthcare services, emergency transportation, social services, and other care services, including services provided in healthcare facilities, residential facilities or homes
· Those who perform 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
· Anyone deemed an essential employee by the public authority declaring the state of emergency
NJBIA has updated two Fast Facts documents to bring more clarity about workers’ compensation law relating to business. NJBIA members can use their website log-in to access the documents.
· COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Rebuttable Presumption Law
· Understanding New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation System