New Jersey continues its reopening plans and workers are being asked to return to work. Some employees are being asked to sign a liability waiver stating their employer cannot be held responsible should they contract COVID-19 while on the job. How does this affect your right to workers' compensation benefits?
Can You Be Forced to Sign Such an Agreement?
The short answer is no. Employers cannot force employees to waive their right to workers' compensation benefits for injuries related to COVID-19. Workers' compensation benefits are guaranteed to all workers in NJ who are injured within the scope of their employment. Of course, under certain circumstances it could be difficult to prove that a worker was infected with COVD-19 while performing the duties of their job. Certainly, a worker in a medical field would have an easier time proving a work-related infection than an office worker. Firing an employee for failure to sign such a document could potentially be illegal under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).
CEPA is the body of statutory law that protects New Jersey employees from retaliation under circumstances where they feel they would be 'violating the law' or their actions would be 'incompatible with public policy.'
Is This Document Legally Binding?
As far as workers' compensation benefits are concerned, it would be improper for an employer to ask an employee to waive their right to workers' compensation benefits. Thus, any document purporting to constitute a waiver of workers' compensation benefits for injuries related to COVID-19 would likely not be held up in court. If you have a question regarding your rights, or a work injury, you should contact a work injury lawyer to learn your rights.
New Bill (S2380) in the Works
There is an initiative pending state legislation that would presume those essential workers who contract COVID-19 did so while working and would make it easier for them to pursue workers' compensation. It essentially removes the burden on the employee to prove they contracted the virus while performing their job duties. If this bill passes the vote, it would be retroactive to March 9th, 2020.
The Reinartz Law Firm has extensive experience navigating the workers' compensation system in New Jersey. If you have questions about your potential claim, contact our office for a free consultation.