CORONAVIRUS DISEASE (COVID-19) AND FILING FOR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BENEFITS IN NEW JERSEY

Dear Friends and Clients,

Our firm is dedicated to providing you with support and guidance during this unprecedented time.  We understand that there are many questions and concerns regarding workers’ compensation in reference to COVID-19.  Please take a moment to review some key points.  We have recently been advised of recent developments with regard to the Workers’ Compensation Court’s treatment of COVID-19 cases.

Under the Workers’ Compensation law, a worker is entitled to benefits if they suffer an accident or occupational disease in the course of their employment.  The standard for an accident differs from that of an occupational disease.  Generally, in both situations, the injured worker must establish that they have been diagnosed with a specific condition.   This means that the claimant must be able to provide a medical report that diagnoses the condition.  The medical report must also specifically state that the condition was contracted as a result of the claimant’s exposure to the virus at work.   The Workers’ Compensation Court normally will not establish a case simply based upon exposure.  HOWEVER, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 cases may be established based only upon exposure.  Public safety workers, including health care workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic are given a strong presumption that the illness was work related.  A definitive diagnosis of the coronavirus is NOT necessary.

The next step is to determine if there was an accident or occupational disease as defined by the law.

Generally, in order to make a successful claim for an accident, an injured worker must establish that they suffered an accident arising out of and in the course of employment.  As an example, if a social services case manager or telephone equipment installer contracts the disease after visiting the home of someone who has the disease, that worker could have a workers’ compensation claim for that one-time exposure.  The difficulty would be to prove that the disease was contracted due to the work exposure and not to an exposure at home or at the supermarket.

In an occupational disease claim, the injured worker’s exposure occurs over the course of time and is unique to that workplace.  As an example, a nurse who is responsible for caring for patients at a hospital who suffered from coronavirus, contracts the disease over time, would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Keep in mind:

  • Being exposed to the coronavirus is NOW sufficient to establish a claim.
  • A medical report providing a diagnosis of the coronavirus is NOT necessary.
  • If you have contracted the coronavirus, you still must produce a medical report stating that you contracted the disease as a result of being exposed at work.
  • You must be able to provide information regarding the details of the exposure such as location and date.
  • In a claim for an accident, you have 30 days from the exposure to notify your employer. In a claim for an occupational disease, you have 2 years from the day you knew or should have known the condition was work related to notify your employer.
  • You must file a claim with the NJ Workers’ Compensation Court within 2 years of the date of accident and 2 years from the day you knew or should have known the condition was work related.
  • You may be entitled to other benefits provided under Federal or New Jersey State laws for loss of salary or sick time.
  • This information is based upon the current state of the law and is subject to change and depends on the exact circumstances of each employee.

FAQs Regarding Workers’ Compensation & the Coronavirus Disease (COVID -19) in the State of New Jersey

1. If a worker is diagnosed with the coronavirus, can they file for Workers’ Compensation benefits?

Yes, workers can file for Workers’ Compensation benefits if they have contracted the coronavirus from an accident or occupational disease that arises out of the course of their employment.

2. If a worker at a hospital was in contact with coronavirus patients and then tests positive for the coronavirus, would this be considered an occupational disease?

Yes, if it arises out of the course of their specific job duties. If the hospital worker was responsible for direct patient care and develops the coronavirus, but the exposure happened over the course of time or they aren’t sure of the exact date they would have a claim for an occupational disease. A hospital worker responding to the COVID-19 pandemic is given a strong presumption that the illness was work related. In a claim for an occupational disease, you have two years from the day you knew or should have known the condition was work related to notify your employer.

3. If a telecommunications equipment installer contracts the coronavirus as a result of performing work, is this considered a workplace accident?

Yes, generally any worker exposed to the coronavirus in the course of their employment has a claim for an accident. The worker has 30 days from the exposure to notify their employer.

4. If a worker states they have tested positive for the coronavirus, is this sufficient to file for Workers’ Compensation?

No, you must be able to prove that you contracted coronavirus as a result of your work activities. The worker should keep a record of the details of the exposure, including the date and place of the exposure. A medical report giving a diagnosis and history of the exposure is also required.

5. If a worker suspects they have contracted the coronavirus, what should they do in order to file for Workers’ Compensation?

The worker must obtain a medical report that provides a diagnosis of the coronavirus and states they have contracted the coronavirus at work. A claim must also be filed with the NJ Workers’ Compensation Court within two years of the date of accident or in the case of an occupational disease, two years from the day they knew or should have known the condition was work related.

6. Under the Workers’ Compensation law, what kind of benefits are workers who are diagnosed with the coronavirus entitled to?

Medical benefits and a wage replacement benefit that is up to 70% of your average weekly wage. However, the appropriate statutory maximums will apply with regard to the wage replacement benefit.

Attorney Advertising: The information presented is intended to help you understand your rights, it is not intended to provide legal advice. Prepared on 4/16/2020 by Cristina Dulay, Esq.