By Frank A. Custode, Esq.

On September 14, 2020, Governor Murphy signed SB 2380 into law, which creates a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for “essential employees” who contract COVID-19 during a state of emergency.  The law is retroactive to March 9, 2020.

Pursuant to the law, an “essential employee” is “an employee in the public or private sector, who, during a state of emergency: (1) is a public safety worker or first responder, including any fire, police or other emergency responders; (2) is involved in providing medical and other healthcare services, emergency transportation, social services, and other care services, including services provided in health care facilities, residential facilities or homes; (3) performs functions which involve physical proximity to members of the public and are essential to the public’s health, safety, and welfare, including transportation services, hotel and other residential services, financial services, and the production, preparation, storage, sale, and distribution of essential goods such as food, beverages, medicine, fuel and supplies for conducting essential business and work at home; or (4) is any other employee deemed an essential employee by the public authority declaring the state of emergency.”

Under this law, if an essential employee contracts COVID-19 while “working in a place of employment other than the individual’s own residence . . . there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the contraction of the disease is work-related and fully compensable” for workers’ compensation benefits.  An employer may rebut the presumption “by a preponderance of the evidence showing that the worker was not exposed to the disease while working in the place of employment other than the individual’s own residence.”

This law is a mixed bag for employers in the State of New Jersey.  Indeed, it is likely that the law will insulate employers from liability for lawsuits filed by employees alleging that the employer is responsible for their COVID-19 diagnosis (due to the exclusive remedy for employees seeking relief under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act).  Conversely, it is likely that there will be a significant increase in the number of workers’ compensation claims filed by employees.  Accordingly, the law clearly expands the scope of eligibility and coverage for workers’ compensation benefits, which is beneficial for employees in the State of New Jersey.  In light of the above, the impact of this law on the number of workers’ compensation claims filed by employees in the State of New Jersey should be interesting to monitor in the upcoming months.

*  Frank A. Custode, Esq. is a Partner at Curcio Mirzaian Sirot and the Chair of the Firm’s Employment Practice.