On March 4, 2022, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 292 that ended the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency as of March 7, 2022. This is the same Public Health Emergency that was reinstated back on January 11, 2022, when the State was experiencing a surge in COVID-19 due mainly to the Delta variant.
The ending of the Health Emergency was certainly welcome news as the State saw its COVID-19 infections continue its downward spiral over the preceding weeks. With the Health Emergency being lifted, not only did it loosen the mask mandates, but it also brought an end, once again, to the legal presumption that was enacted in September 2020 (that was effective March 2020) creating a presumption for defined “essential workers” throughout the State who contracted COVID-19, are presumed to have contracted the disease during the course of their employment, and thus entitling such workers to workers’ compensation benefits for their illness.
Learn more about the presumption legislation from our previous WG Alerts here:
January 13, 2022: Governor Murphy Reinstates Health Emergency, The Presumption of Compensability for Essential Workers Contracting COVID-19 is Back
September 15, 2020: Governor Murphy Signs Presumption of Compensability for Essential Workers’ Contracting COVID-19 Bill into Law
The presumption legislation was clearly defined to only remain in effect during the declared “Health Emergency,” and not the “State of Emergency.” This ending of the presumption actually represents the second ending of the presumption law, as the original Health Emergency was lifted in June 2021, and then reinstated on January 11, 2022, as a result of the spike in the contraction of the disease.
Comment: It will be interesting to see whether the presumption had any clear impact in administering workers’ compensation benefits to essential workers during these health emergencies. Since the presumption was a rebuttable presumption, employers of the defined essential workers could have still challenged any claim for workers’ compensation benefits during the emergency, albeit the burden of proving the disease was not contracted in the workplace had shifted to such employers.
Now with the Health Emergency lifted, anyone, including essential workers, who contract the disease will have to establish by a preponderance of the evidence, as with any other illness, that it was contracted in the course and scope of his or her employment in order to be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
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