Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he will introduce a bill Monday making it easier for essential workers who contract the coronavirus to qualify for workers’ compensation.
The bill would remove the requirement that workers deemed essential during the pandemic and who become sick prove they contracted the coronavirus at work.
Nearly 62,000 people in New Jersey have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 2,350 have died. Much economic activity in the state has ground to a halt, as such “nonessential” businesses as hair salons, gyms, retail stores, casinos and movie theaters have been ordered closed.
And while many workers are able to work from home, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the public is relying on the essential health care and grocery store workers and public safety officials who still go to work each day and risk getting sick.
“We’re asking them to go to work everyday,” Sweeney said. “We started with police and fire and all emergency responders. But think about the person working at the grocery store. They’re just as much on the front lines.”
“If you were designated essential by the administration then you should be able to get workers’ comp," he said.
Typically, in order to receive workers’ compensation in New Jersey the employee must prove they suffered a job-related illness or injury. Sweeney’s bill would create a presumption during this public health crisis that essential employees’ illnesses are related to their work.
Essential employees who miss work because they fall ill would not be required to take sick leave but would be considered “on duty,” according to the bill.
The issue was raised last week by the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, which said “requiring an essential employee to prove they contracted it at a specific workplace is nearly impossible.”
“Our members have provided an unprecedented response to the need of the public, and it’s critical that our lawmakers don’t forget these workers'’ own needs as well," Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey AFL-CIO, said in a statement.
The bill proposes making this change retroactive to March 9.