Over the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, with over 3,000,000 confirmed cases around the world. At the time of publication, over 1,000,000 of those cases are in the United States, with New Jersey nearing 120,000 confirmed cases and 7,000 deaths. While everyone is doing their part to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus, essential workers are on the front lines of this crisis, ensuring that citizens get the food, water, and medical treatment they need to get through this crisis.
However, this puts essential workers at risk, and they (along with their loved ones) are asking an important question: does New Jersey workers’ compensation cover COVID-19 infections? The short answer is yes, it does!
Workers’ compensation covers injury or harm sustained in the workplace, and if you contract the virus at your workplace, this is legally considered an “exposure,” which makes you entitled to workers’ compensation. In New Jersey, places of business like liquor stores, supermarkets, and gas stations are considered essential, but the highest risk of infection is in places like hospitals, psychiatric institutions, and prisons.
If you or a loved one have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, you are entitled to workers’ compensation. In the state of New Jersey, workers’ compensation entails 70% of your average gross weekly wage while you recover. However, due to the severe nature of this pandemic, it may be possible to earn up to 100% of your average gross weekly wages until you can return to work. New Jersey is also in the process of developing “COVID numbers”; however, this is still developing.
In addition to receiving these wages, you are also entitled to a financial reward. However, this comes with a hurdle: you must be able to prove that you contracted the virus at your place of employment. Even if you’re certain that you contracted the virus at work, this can be difficult to prove unless the virus was previously “common” to your workplace, meaning that a coworker has tested positive beforehand. If you began showing symptoms after being notified that a coworker has tested positive, then this will be easy for you to prove.
Last July, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law S716, also known as “the Thomas P. Canzanella First Responders Protection Act.” Instead of forcing first responders to prove that they sustained their ailments in the workplace, this bill allows a presumption that this is the case, and the burden of proof is shifted to employers, who then have to prove that the ailments weren’t caused in the workplace. Under this law, exposure to COVID-19 is covered. For first responders like firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, and more, this removes a significant hurdle for receiving workers’ compensation.
If you or a loved one are seeking to claim workers’ compensation benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic, your best bet is to have experienced lawyers on your side to help you through the process. For any questions, comments, concerns, or legal guidance regarding your workers’ compensation benefits, contact us at (609) 275-0400.