New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney has introduced legislation (S-2380) that would add COVID-19 to the list of illnesses and injuries covered by the state’s workers’ compensation program and create a rebuttable presumption that any essential worker who contracts COVID-19 did so at work.
The public text of the bill is not available, but NJBIA’s Government Affairs team is working with Senate President Sweeney’s office to discuss the bill and get clarification on its intent.
Essentially the bill would create a rebuttable presumption that an essential worker who contracts the COVID-19 virus got infected in the workplace. The intent of this presumption is to allow the employee to avail themselves of the workers compensation system.
Members of NJBIA’s Employment and Labor Law Policy Committee discussed the bill on Wednesday with guest speaker Sen. Joseph Lagana (D-38).
The committee raised several questions including what are the gaps that the bill is trying to fill? As Vice President of Government Affairs Ray Cantor put it, “There’s things in the CARES Act that may cover this,” referring to the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act. That and the related Families First Coronavirus Response Act provide several potential means for replacing lost wages and providing medical coverage.
The second question involves whether or not enough is known about COVID-19 to determine if workers’ compensation coverage is the appropriate vehicle to provide employee protections or whether other options may work best for both employees and employers.
One suggestion offered was to seek federal funds to cover the additional cost if it’s determined that workers’ compensation-type coverage should include COVID-19. Senator Lagana expressed his appreciation of out input and promised to continue the conversation.
The committee also discussed New Jersey’s new law adding coronavirus to the reasons covered by the state’s Family Leave Act. While federal emergency leave laws related to coronavirus exempted front-line healthcare workers who were needed to battle the virus, the state’s version has no such exemption.
If you would like further information on the legislation, please contact Chrissy Buteas at firstname.lastname@example.org.