On September 14, 2020, Governor Murphy signed into law a bill establishing the presumption that certain workers that contracted COVID-19 became infected with the virus at work. The bill is retroactive to March 9, 2020. Under the bill, the contracted illness is considered “work related” granting benefits eligibility to “essential workers” – those who worked from March through July and whose duties and responsibilities were essential to the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Previously only “public safety workers” were presumed eligible. Now workers such as gas station attendants, grocery store workers, other retail and warehouse employees and others are now eligible for benefits.
Why you need to know about this?
Wrongfully denying workers’ compensation benefits can result in expensive litigation that would cost an employer significantly more than the benefits owed to the employee. Eligible employees can receive benefits such as wage replacement, implicating New Jersey’s wage payment laws which carry significant penalties for employers, or an award of permanent disability. Given the expansion of the presumption and its retroactivity, an employer’s workers may now be eligible or were previously eligible for benefits unbeknownst to the employer. An employee who is retroactively eligible for benefits that were previously denied presents a significant risk of litigation if an employer does not take swift action to address the situation.
What should you do now?
Employers must immediately review any claims for workers’ compensation benefits dating back to March, and determine if an employee is or should have been eligible for benefits. New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system can be complicated, and the rules and regulations may be unknowingly violated without the assistance of experienced counsel.
The new legislation and other COVID-related measures instituted in New Jersey have far reaching consequences and potential blind spots for employers. To learn more and avoid violations of New Jersey’s COVID regulations and evolving employment laws, contact Hyland Levin Shapiro’s employment practice group.