Pennsauken, NJ (Law Firm Newswire)November 10, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic changed life in America in innumerable ways. From the new norm of social distancing to working from home and distance learning, life may never fully return to the “old normal” as concerns about COVID-19 seem only to grow as time passes. As of mid-July, New Jersey has had over 180,000 cases of COVID-19, and, tragically, more than 15,000 residents have died from the virus. While the virus impacts people from all backgrounds and ways of life, studies have shown that it disproportionately affects those who work outside the home.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, state and federal lawmakers passed a series of bills to provide economic relief to those suffering from the impact of COVID-19. Among these benefits are expanded sick leave, Family Medical leave and unemployment benefits. Each of these benefits lasts for only a certain amount of time. Some employees who contracted COVID-19 and remain seriously ill may have exhausted all these benefits.
Depending on the situation, New Jersey workers may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or an order from a healthcare professional to quarantine as a result of exposure to a person who tested positive for COVID-19. However, the worker must have either contracted COVID-19 through their employment or been exposed to the virus due to their employment. For example, if a worker caught COVID-19 from a co-worker while on the job, that worker may qualify. However, if the same worker caught COVID-19 from a family member, they would not be eligible.
The immediately apparent issue with a workers’ compensation claim arising from a COVID-19 diagnosis proves that the worker’s diagnosis was work-related. Employers routinely contest employee’s workers’ compensation claims because a successful claim can impact the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance rates. Thus, an employer may dispute that an employee contracted COVID-19 while on the job, arguing that they caught the virus while off the clock. This can put an employee in a difficult situation.
New Jersey courts have not had to hear COVID-19 workers’ compensation appeals yet; however, other cases present similar factual scenarios. For example, in a 1998 case, a groundskeeper at a country club contracted Lyme disease. The court heard that the employee’s job often took him into the woods along the club’s edge, where ticks were common. It was also established that the worker only spent a few hours a year gardening at home. In upholding the employee’s eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits, the court held that the workers’ Lyme disease was “more probably than not” contracted while he was at work. Since then, the courts have relied on this “more probably than not” language when determining if an injury or illness was work-related.
On July 8, 2019, Governor Murphy signed the Thomas P. Canzanella Twenty First Century First Responders Protection Act. The text of the Act includes the following language:
It is, therefore, an appropriate public policy to modernize the workers’ compensation system in this State to ensure the meeting of the critical needs of public safety workers who are New Jersey’s first line of defense in the event of catastrophic emergencies, epidemics and terrorist attacks, and assure that those workers are not denied a level of support which is commensurate to the sacrifices they and their families make for the safety and wellbeing of the citizens of this State and the nation.
Under the Act, there is a presumption that public safety workers who contract a serious communicable disease did so due to their employment. In effect, this shifts the burden from the employee to prove that the disease was work-related to the employer to prove that it was not work-related. The Act applies to all public safety workers, including:
Community Emergency Response Workers employed by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management;
Employees of a Correctional facility;
Basic or advanced medical technicians working for a first aid or rescue squad; or
Any other nurse, basic or advanced medical technician responding to a catastrophic incident and directly involved and in contact with the public during such an incident, either as a volunteer, member of a Community Emergency Response Team, or employed or directed by a health care facility.
The New Jersey workers’ compensation attorneys at Petrillo & Goldberg remind workers that employees in other industries may still obtain workers’ compensation benefits after a COVID-19 diagnosis. However, workers outside the professions covered by the Canzanella Act will need to establish that their exposure to COVID-19 was through their employment.
The law firm of Petrillo & Goldberg consists of a compassionate team of advocates who have dedicated their career to ensuring that New Jersey injury accident victims recover the compensation they deserve. Petrillo & Goldberg attorneys skillfully deal with insurance companies so employees can focus on healing, returning to work and moving forward with their life. To learn more, visit https://www.petrilloandgoldberg.com, or call 856-249-9288 to schedule a free consultation.
Petrillo & Goldberg Law
6951 North Park Drive
Pennsauken, NJ 08109
19 South 21st Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
70 South Broad Street
Woodbury, NJ 08096
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