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Geaney: Update on Essential Workers, Hand and Foot Bills

  • State: New Jersey
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Many readers have asked about the status of two very significant bills affecting New Jersey workers’ compensation practice. The bills are S2380 and A4134.

John H. Geaney

John H. Geaney

S2380: Essential employees bill

We are down to the wire on S2380. The governor has until Sunday to either sign this bill or veto it; otherwise, S2380 will become law automatically. 

This bill creates a rebuttable presumption for essential employees that their contraction of the coronavirus is work-related. The employer can rebut the presumption by a preponderance of the evidence (more than 50%) by showing that the worker was not exposed to the disease while working in the place of employment. 

Essential workers are defined as:

  • Public safety workers or first responders.
  • Those involved in providing medical and other health care services, emergency transportation, social services and other care services, including services provided in health care facilities, residential facilities or homes.
  • Those who perform functions that involve physical proximity to members of the public and are essential to the public’s health, safety and welfare, including transportation services, hotel and other residential services, financial services and the production, preparation, storage, sale and distribution of essential goods such as food, beverages, medicine, fuel and supplies for conducting essential business and work at home.
  • Anyone deemed an essential employee by the public authority declaring the state of emergency.

A4134: Clarification of hand and foot bill on retroactivity

This Assembly bill has attracted less attention than S2380, but it is important. It clarifies whether the legislation that became law on Jan. 21 had a secondary, retroactive effect. 

The bill created enhanced compensation for hand, foot and finger injuries. However, it contained no clear language on which cases it applied to. Questions arose immediately among judges, claimants, practitioners, employers, carriers and third-party administrators regarding the application of the law to claim petitions pending in the Division of Workers’ Compensation as of Jan. 21 but filed before the effective date of the law.

This bill clearly states that the enhanced compensation for hand, foot and finger injuries applies to all cases pending but not yet settled or filed on or after the date of enactment, Jan. 21. However, the bill states that the law will not be applicable to cases that have been reopened. The law obviously would not apply to cases that were settled before Jan. 21, 2020.

This bill is limited to the issue of secondary retroactivity and was passed by the Assembly on Aug. 27. It will be scheduled next for a hearing before the Senate. 

Readers should be aware that another aspect of this bill raises the cost of burial expenses in cases of a compensable accident or occupational disease, from $3,500 to $5,000, and that provision, too, would be applicable to claim petitions pending in the Division of Workers’ Compensation as of Jan. 21, 2020.

Readers who are interested in the method used to compute the enhanced compensation for hand, foot and finger injuries can view the Jan. 23 blog entry addressing this subject.

John H. Geaney is an attorney, executive committee member and shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, a defense law firm in New Jersey. This post appears with permission from Geaney's New Jersey Workers' Comp Blog.

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