A law passed by the New Jersey Assembly and Senate is now sitting on Governor Phil Murphy’s desk, awaiting his signature. If the governor agrees with its contents, essential workers in the state who are diagnosed with the novel coronavirus will be able to file for workers’ compensation for their illness and their employers and the companies that insure them will have to presume that the illness is work related.

Workers’ compensation laws are specifically created to accomplish two things: they provide workers with the compensation that they need to be treated for and recover from work-related injuries and illnesses, and they protect their employers from liability. By extending that coverage to assume that essential workers acquired COVID-19 on the job, the state government joins with several other states who have already made the move. The bill was first approved by the Senate back in May, and now cleared the state House.

The bill was opposed by many business groups, who pointed out that it will add between $400 million to $18 billion in expenses to businesses already hard-hit by the impact of the global pandemic, and who argue that since the state is no longer in lockdown there is a greater likelihood that workers could be exposed to the virus in social settings rather than at work. In response, the bill’s sponsors, Senator Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex/Mercer and Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Robert Singer say, “If we are willing to define some of the lowest-paid members of our workforce as essential and ask them to put themselves at a higher risk, we must ensure that we provide them with the workers compensation benefits they deserve. In this unprecedented public health crisis, it is more important than ever that basic protections for those workers who interact with the public and increase their own risk of exposure should be maintained.”

Though the law would not extend this allowance to teachers or to rank and file employees and employers, it does acknowledge the importance and risk of the job that essential employees have been asked to do throughout the ongoing emergency. Essential workers are defined within the legislation as those in either the public or private sector whose jobs are essential to public health, safety and welfare. This includes emergency responders, workers at health care facilities, and those whose jobs support the operations of health care facilities.

These strange and difficult times are created legal problems that we have never seen or dealt with before. If you believe that your employer may be violating the law in its treatment of you and other in light of the COVID pandemic, please feel free to give us a call. The initial consultation is free.