With the rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout New Jersey, many employees have questions about possible exposure at work. Is COVID-19 and the health problems caused by the virus considered compensable under New Jersey Workers’ Compensation law?
Proving Where You Contracted COVID-19
Pursuant to NJSA 34:15-31, occupational disease includes all diseases that occur in and in the course of employment. But how could an employee be certain when and where they contracted COVID-19? Multiple experts agree that this virus can last on surfaces for days and its incubation period may be as long as 14 days. This could make it difficult to whether the virus was contracted during the regular course of work.
Workers at Risk of COVID-19
Some employees may be at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19. Safety workers such as police, firefighters and other government workers may see a higher level of exposure performing their regular job duties. If a public employee can prove exposure to a “serious communicable disease,” then there may be a case for compensation. See NJSA 34:15-31.5 A serious communicable disease includes, “any disease which, if not treated, may result in disability, chronic illness or death, and is transmittable by association with sick, infected or colonized individuals, including airborne transmission.” See NJSA 34:15-31.4.
The Unknown Impacts of COVID-19
There is much we do not know about COVID-19, and the impact it has on short and long-term health. Once a patient fully recovers, will there be any permanent disability? If an employee is exposed to the virus and self-quarantines, should they receive temporary disability benefits during that time?
As the authorities continue to attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, employers should be taking every measure possible to limit the number of cases and protect their employees and themselves.