Legislation that will shift the cost of the COVID pandemic onto New Jersey businesses and taxpayers has been on the Governor’s desk since it was voted out of the Assembly on July 30th. Governor Murphy has until September 14th to sign, veto, or conditionally veto the legislation. If the Governor takes no action after 45 days the bill automatically becomes law.
A3999 dictates that “essential workers” who contract COVID are presumed to have caught the virus on the job. The presumption applies to an assertion of COVID infection, without a requirement of a positive test or even physician diagnosis. It applies to all employees working at “essential businesses” who contracted COVID during the public health emergency declared by an executive order of the Governor and any extension of the order, without regard to their interaction with the general public. And it applies equally to employees who became sick during the initial stay-home order, as well as to employees who become sick when a wide range of retail establishments are open, travel, dining, and – looking ahead – even gyms have reopened.
The data has never supported the presumption that essential employees are catching COVID on the job. But since the stay-home order has been lifted, the Governor himself has repeatedly and emphatically identified the most common cause of new infections: out of state travel and house parties.
Perhaps recognizing the disconnect between the presumption created in the bill, and observable reality, even the advocates have been unwilling to own the full scope of the legislation. AFL-CIO advocate Eric Richard claimed in committee testimony that the legislation was already limited to workers who had contact with the general public. The Assembly sponsor claimed the legislation is about ensuring that “essential workers who stepped up in the crisis” are compensated should they contract COVID-19.
We continue to urge the Governor to conditionally veto the legislation to align with advocates’ representations and his own observations. Limiting the presumption to essential workers who “stepped up” during the shut-down, requiring evidence that they actually contracted COVID-19, and requiring some contact with the general public would be consistent with what other states have done to address the workers’ comp presumption. And it would be consistent with basic fairness.
Please contact Alida if you would like to discuss this legislation further.