Workers’ Compensation legislation – A3999 – is expected to be added to the Assembly Appropriations Committee agenda for Monday.  The bill would dictate that “essential” employees who develop COVID-19 are presumed to have contracted the virus on the job. 

This legislation was voted out of the Senate in May but Assembly leadership did not seem inclined to move the legislation until recently.

It is not yet clear what amendments might be made when legislation is heard on Monday.  But as released from the Senate, the legislation includes an expansive definition of “essential employee.”  It not only covers health and emergency/first responder workers, who are already entitled to a presumption of workplace infection under “Canzanella” legislation.  It also includes frontline retail workers, and everyone else working at an “essential business” regardless of the extent of their interaction with the general public.

The timeline is retroactive to the beginning of the declared state of emergency, and continues indefinitely, for as long as the declared public health emergency continues or is renewed in subsequent executive orders. 

NJCJI has been engaged on this proposed legislation since it was first introduced in the Senate. 

We have explained that the workers’ compensation system not a good fit for a viral pandemic.  There has never been any data indicating that workers, essential or otherwise, have been contracting the virus on the job.  Rather, the data suggests quite the contrary – that workers are more effectively protected while on the job than while socializing, traveling, and engaging in the various other activities permitted since the Governor’s stay-at-home order was lifted in early June.

We’ve also explained that the workers’ compensation benefits are unnecessary, given the existing income replacement and medical benefits already offered by the federal government under the CARES Act.  Workers have been eligible for more money through the CARES Act programs than they would receive through workers’ compensation.  In fact, in most cases, workers have been eligible for more than they were receiving when working full time.  Facilitating workers’ compensation claims has the effect of forfeiting those federal dollars and also leaving the workers economically worse off.

At a minimum, the window for the presumption should be limited to the duration of the stay-at-home order.  As Governor Murphy has repeatedly observed, the recent increase in transmission rates has been traced largely to parties and out of state travel, and there is simply no data to support the presumption that rates are increasing due to exposure on the job.  Similarly, the presumption should not apply where the employer can demonstrate that the workplace was in compliance with prevailing executive orders on protective protocols.  Again, it’s a change supported by data, which indicates that masks and protective barriers are effective at preventing the spread of COVID 19. 

New Jersey businesses and taxpayers should not be forced to bear the cost of COVID cases as a result of a presumption with no underlying validity.  NJCJI is opposed to this legislation as currently drafted.

Please contact Alida if you would like to discuss this important issue further.