New Jersey has been one of the country’s largest outbreak epicenters during the global health crisis. Home to a predominant international airport, this state was hit hard in the early stages of the virus’s entry into the U.S. Since then, the state has been trying to retroactively respond to the ricochet effect this emergency has caused.
While other states have been comparatively quick to pass laws that protect essential workers in the face of this new threat, New Jersey’s efforts have been somewhat stagnated. However, this week, the legislature made some promising progress to provide pandemic-related workers’ compensation to frontline workers.
Workers’ compensation offers financial benefits to employees who suffer injury or illness from their job – and are therefore unable to work. However, during a viral pandemic, it becomes difficult for an employee to prove that their infection was contracted on the job. This puts essential workers at a great deal of risk every time they go into work. If they become infected, they may not have any course of action to pay for their medical bills or put food on the table while they are unable to work.
In May of this year, the New Jersey Senate introduced a presumption bill for essential workers. The bill states that if such a worker contracts COVID-19 and is otherwise eligible for workers’ compensation – or other benefits, such as disability or medical benefits – it should be presumed that their illness is work-related.
The bill has passed in the Senate. This week, it also passed in a 7-4 vote by the Assembly appropriations committee. This means that it will move on to a vote by the New Jersey Assembly.
For essential workers – including those in the healthcare, emergency response, transportation, production and residential sectors – this bill is a big deal. If it passes, the legislation will eliminate much of the red tape that prevents workers on the front lines from receiving workers’ comp benefits, should they become infected by the virus. It would remove much of the stress and anxiety around the simple decision to go to work.