New Jersey’s workers’ compensation program is a type of insurance. Employers purchase this insurance so that when a worker is injured on the job, their policy pays for medical expenses and a portion of the worker’s lost income. Being a no-fault program, it does not matter who was responsible for the accident that resulted in the injury. The injured employee can receive benefits regardless of whether the employee was at fault for causing the accident, provided the employee did not intentionally hurt themselves. However, in exchange for these no-fault workers’ compensation benefits, the employee generally cannot file a civil lawsuit against their employer.
In the past, workers’ compensation benefits were reserved for those workers who experienced job-related injuries caused by accidents or suffered certain illnesses because of the specific dangers associated with their job. Contracting colds, flu, and other common ailments did not make employees eligible to apply for workers’ compensation benefits, since it is almost impossible to trace endemic illnesses like the flu to workplace exposure. However, the significance of COVID-19 infections has changed how some states handle workers’ compensation claims.
During the height of the pandemic, some states decided to take action to extend workers’ compensation benefits to employees exposed to COVID while at work. In September 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 2380, which created a presumption that an essential employee who contracted COVID, did so at work. As a result, it made it easier for an essential worker to file a workers’ compensation case for COVID.
Essential workers can include, but are not limited to:
- Public safety workers and first responders, such as paramedics, firefighters, and police officers
- Anyone involved in the medical or healthcare fields
- Anyone who works near the public and is essential to their welfare and safety, including transportation workers, hotel staff, tellers and other bank employees, and service industry employees
On June 4, 2021, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 244 officially ending the COVID-19 state of emergency and the presumption established in SB 2380, as of June 4, 2021. However, with the rise of the Omicron variant in early 2022, Governor Murphy reversed course on January 11, 2022, and re-established the presumption in Executive Order No. 280. The Governor then stopped it again on March 7, 2022 (Executive Order No. 292). After March 7, 2022, a person who contracts COVID would not get a presumption that he/she contracted it at work and would need to affirmatively proof that they became ill due to their work.
Since you have a limited timeline to collect the workers’ compensation benefits you could be owed, it is important to discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible.
Proving Negligence of Your Employer
Another avenue for pursuing compensation for COVID contracted at work is through a lawsuit. However, to file a coronavirus-related suit against your employer, you may need to demonstrate that you contracted the illness at work, because of your employer’s gross negligence. This legal term describes particularly reckless or dangerous behavior that violates a person’s right to safety.
If you have been diagnosed with COVID and believe you were exposed to the illness while at work, there are steps you can take to help strengthen your workers’ compensation claim. Consider these tips:
- Seek medical attention– If you believe you have been exposed to COVID while at work or begin experiencing signs of illness, seek medical treatment immediately. A positive COVID test will allow your doctor to give you the best treatment advice. Knowing that you are COVID-positive will also allow you to take proactive measures to prevent spreading the illness to others.
- Collect evidence – Proving that you contracted COVID at the workplace will likely be difficult. You must gather as much evidence as possible showing how you may have been exposed to the illness at work. Gather emails or memos about other sick employees you may have interacted with in recent weeks. You may also need to gather travel documents and records of any meetings you attended where you may have been exposed to COVID.
- Contact an attorney – If you have been diagnosed with COVID, you probably are not feeling your best. It can be hard coping with your condition and navigating a complicated worker’s compensation claim. Turn to a skilled New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney for help as soon as possible. An attorney can talk to you about your legal rights, help collect valuable evidence, and manage your workers’ compensation claim.
How to Get Compensated for Getting COVID at Work
Have you been diagnosed with COVID? Depending on the circumstances, you could be entitled to compensation through the workers’ compensation system. To pursue these benefits, take the following steps:
- You must first seek medical attention and confirm your diagnosis with a positive COVID test.
- You will then need to notify your employer about your condition. Furthermore, you should tell your employer as soon as possible to help prevent the spread of infection.
- Let your employer know you want to recover workers’ compensation for your time away from work. Your employer will need to file a First Report of Injury form with the state of New Jersey.
- The employer’s worker compensation carrier can then begin evaluating your claim.
- Once your employer files the initial claim, you should be able to track the status online. A determination will be made on whether your claim is denied or accepted.
You can dispute the result if your initial workers’ compensation claim for COVID is denied. To do this, you may file a formal claim petition or apply for an informal hearing conducted by the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation.
When to Hire a New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyer for COVID Illness
When is the right time to hire a New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyer? The sooner you reach out, the better. If you have been diagnosed with COVID and believe you were exposed while at work, you need to get in touch with an attorney immediately. COVID policies continue to evolve, and it can be challenging for employees to get the benefits they deserve.
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can review your claim and start building a compelling workers’ compensation claim for COVID. At Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., our legal team is up to date on all current coronavirus information and how changing state laws, executive orders, and other regulations may influence your claim. We want to offer you the best chance possible at recovering the valuable benefits you deserve.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of variables when dealing with COVID. Science still has not identified all potential long-term complications of the illness or how these complications may impact your life. Not only can an attorney help you file an initial New Jersey workers’ compensation claim, but they may also be able to direct you towards other potential sources of aid. Depending on the severity of your COVID infection and the nature of your work, you may be eligible to apply for:
Discuss your case with a New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney to learn more about your rights.