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COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Rebuttable Presumption Law

Background

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories have Workers’ Compensation laws. Workers’ compensation provides wage replacement, medical treatment, and survivor benefits in the event a worker experiences a job-related accident or illness. In return, with some exceptions, both the employer and the employee give up the right to sue for negligence.

For more information, please read NJBIA’s Fast Facts on New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation law.

What changes were made to New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation system in 2020?

In September 2020, Governor Murphy signed workers’ compensation legislation (S-2380) into law to address COVID-19 illnesses. The law creates a rebuttable presumption for workers defined as essential employees who contract COVID-19 that the disease was contracted due to work-related activity.

These individuals are “…fully compensable for the purposes of benefits provided under R.S.34:15-1 et seq., ordinary and accidental disability retirement, and any other benefits provided by law to individuals suffering injury or illness through the course of their employment.”

How does the ‘rebuttable presumption’ work?

The rebuttable presumption means that, for workers’ compensation issues, the assumption is these workers contracted COVID-19 while on the job and are entitled to the relevant benefits. Since the presumption is rebuttable, an employer can contest the presumption that a worker contracted the disease at work by showing “a preponderance of the evidence” that the worker in question was not exposed to the disease at the workplace or while performing work-related activities outside their own residence.

Who does the law apply to?

The law applies to health care workers, public safety workers, and essential employees working in a place other than their own residence. An essential employee is a public or private sector worker who, during the 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 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
  4. is any other employee deemed an essential employee by the public authority declaring the state of emergency.”

This law does not apply to essential employees who work for the State and are given the option to work from their own residence but choose not to.

How long will this law be in effect?

The law is effective immediately. It will be in effect for all relevant cases that occur during the public health emergency declared, and extended, by the Governor in executive orders. The law is retroactive to March 9, 2020.

How will this law affect employers’ experience ratings and insurance rates?

The law states the Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau is not allowed to consider workers’ compensation claims paid resulting from this Act when calculating an employer’s Experience Modification Factor.

 

This information should not be construed as constituting specific legal advice. It is intended to provide general information about this subject and general compliance strategies. For specific legal advice, NJBIA strongly recommends members consult with their attorney.