Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in New Jersey, nearly 150,000 residents have been infected with the virus – some of whom provide essential services related to public health and safety. In an effort to assist these essential workers, Assembly Democrats Thomas Giblin, John Burzichelli, Carol Murphy and Joann Downey have introduced a bill that would mandate certain work-related benefits for those who contract COVID-19.
Under the bill (A-3999), essential employees whose jobs involve interacting with the public during the pandemic would be eligible for the benefits normally given to workers who suffer an injury or illness on the job – including workers’ compensation – if they contract COVID-19.
“When they first entered the workforce, none of these essential workers could have imagined the kind of danger and extreme challenges this pandemic would one day present them with,” said Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic). “Yet these dedicated workers have heroically stepped up and put their health on the line in order to help their fellow community members get through this unprecedented crisis.”
Additionally, essential employees who are unable to perform their duties as a result of exposure to the virus would not be required to use their existing paid leave to make up for lost time. Instead, their absence would be considered ’emergency hazard health duty’ and they would be compensated as if they were on duty.
“Essential employees have been critical to our state’s COVID-19 response,” said Burzichelli (D- Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem). “Nurses, police officers, EMTs and so many other workers on the frontlines of this pandemic risk exposure to this deadly virus every day as they provide indispensable services to New Jersey residents. We must do all we can to help, as they have helped us.”
Unless a “preponderance of evidence” indicates an essential worker was not exposed to COVID-19, it would be presumed that the infection was work-related in order to ensure eligibility for these benefits.
“Countless lives have been saved due to the efforts of New Jersey’s essential workers,” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “Our state owes these employees not only our gratitude, but the guarantee that they will receive the benefits they both need and deserve if they contract COVID-19.”
“If someone has to miss work because they are infected with COVID-19, they shouldn’t have to use their hard-earned vacation time to make up for their absence or worry about whether they’ll be eligible for workers’ compensation,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “This bill will ensure essential employees have one less thing to worry about during this turbulent time.”
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Labor Committee.