Panel approves legislation making it easier for employees on the front lines of coronavirus fight to get work-related benefits
TRENTON – Acting to ensure that ‘essential workers’ serving public needs during the coronavirus crisis get the benefits and protections they deserve, the Senate Labor Committee approved a bill authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Robert Singer and Senator Linda Greenstein expanding access to workers’ compensation and other benefits for front-line workers sickened by the coronavirus.
“The men and women who are on the front lines protecting our health and safety and providing the vital services we all need during this crisis must be assured that they have basic worker protections and that they can get workers’ compensation if they fall ill to the coronavirus,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “We need to ensure that they can go to work with the knowledge that these benefits will be there if they need them.”
The bill, S-2380, would create a presumption that coronavirus disease infections contracted by essential employees who interact with the public, including health care workers and public safety workers, are work-related for the purpose of determining employment benefits for work-related injuries and illnesses, including workers’ compensation benefits. It would cover workers in the public and private sectors.
“New Jersey’s essential employees continue to go to work each and every day, inevitably putting themselves in harms way as they serve their communities,” said Senator Singer (R-30). “Frontline workers who contract COVID-19 should have access to financial safeguards and quality medical care. While we’re hammering out the details with stakeholders and the bill remains a work in progress, I look forward to a positive outcome for everyone.”
The presumption would apply to essential employees in both the public and private sectors who perform needed work during the current public health emergency and would be retroactive to March 9th, when New Jersey’s state of emergency was declared.
“If we are willing to define some of some of the lowest-paid members of our workforce as essential and ask them to put themselves at a higher risk, we must ensure that we provide them with the workers compensation benefits they deserve,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer). “In this unprecedented public health crisis, it is more important than ever that basic protections for those workers who interact with the public and increase their own risk of exposure should be maintained.”
The committee vote was 3-1-1.