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Sweeney Bill Would Expand Workers’ Comp Benefits for ‘Essential Workers’ Sickened in COVID Crisis

Senate President introduces 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, Senate President Steve Sweeney today introduced legislation 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).

“Health care professionals, public safety officials, grocery store clerks, pharmacy staff and other essential workers who contract the virus, are exposed to anyone infected, or need to be quarantined should be entitled to full workers’ benefits,” he said. “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 Sweeney bill 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.

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.

The bill also would establish that an essential employee’s absence from work due to an employee contracting or being exposed to coronavirus disease will be considered “on duty” time, and prohibits employers from charging that employee for paid leave.

“We are grateful to the hundreds of thousands of essential workers providing the critical services we need to enable most New Jerseyans to work at home and shelter in place in order to slow the spread of this deadly disease,” Senator Sweeney said. “We need to ensure that they can go to work with the knowledge that these benefits will be there if they need them.”