On January 11, 2022, New Jersey Governor Murphy reinstated the Public Health Emergency that was previously terminated in June 2021 in response to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.
By entering Executive Order 280, the governor declared that COVID-19 and its variance remains a significant threat to the health and safety of the public at large. Declaring this health emergency allows the governor to order public health measures to combat COVID-19, which includes vaccine distribution, administration, and management of testing, health resources, and personnel allocation, along with data collection and implementation of recommendations that are made by the CDC to prevent or limit the transmission of COVID-19.
By reinstating this health emergency, the governor has also reinstated a law that was enacted in September 2020 involving “essential workers” throughout the state. That is, essential workers who contract COVID-19 during a “health emergency” are afforded a legal presumption that the disease was contracted in the course and scope of their employment. This opens the door to those individuals defined as essential workers to workers’ compensation benefits in the form of medical care, temporary disability benefits, and permanent disability benefits where applicable. For a full analysis of the presumption law and those who are considered essential employees, please refer to my previous article on the law here.
This presumption law was in effect when the original health emergency was declared by the Governor as of March 9, 2020, and ended when the Governor declared the health emergency had ended in June 2021. What this means is that any covered employee who is diagnosed with COVID-19 on or after January 11, 2022, is presumed to have contracted the disease during their employment.
The presumption is not absolute in that it remains what is referred to as a rebuttable presumption. This means that if an essential worker asserts a claim, the burden of proof shifts to the employer who can challenge the fact that the individual contracted the disease at work by a preponderance of the evidence.
Comment: The jury is still out as to whether the presumption law when it was previously in effect had any significant impact upon those covered under the law in their automatic entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits as many employers may have chosen to routinely contest such claims unless their initial investigation after being notified of a case of COVID-19 revealed an obvious connection between the contraction of the disease in the place of employment. However, employers should be cognizant of this law to ensure that they continue to put all health safety measures into effect for the protection of their employees in order to avoid COVID-19 liability in the future.