A work-related injury or illness can cause major disruptions to your life—not only to your health, but also to your career, finances, and overall well-being. If you're eligible for worker’s comp benefits, New Jersey's workers’ compensation system provides medical care, vocational rehabilitation, and other services to help you get you back to work as soon as possible. You may also receive payments to make up for some of your lost income—but not all. This article explains the types and amounts of benefits that you may receive after you file a workers’ compensation claim.
New Jersey Makes It Easier for Essential Employees to Get Workers’ Comp for COVID-19
On September 14, 2020, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed a law that makes it easier for essential employees in the state to qualify for workers' compensation benefits when they get COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic. Under N.J. Senate Bill 2380, which is retroactive to March 9, 2020, the state will presume that COVID-19 is a work-related illness covered by workers' comp if an essential worker contracts the disease during a time period when the employee is working away from home during the public health emergency. If the employer (or its insurer) denies the claim, it would have to prove that the employee wasn't exposed to the virus at work.
The law's definition of essential employees covers a wide range of workers, including healthcare workers, first responders, social workers, transportation workers, other employees providing essential functions with proximity to the public—such as delivery and grocery workers—and anyone that a public authority declares to be an essential employee during the emergency.
If you can’t work for more than seven days because of your on-the-job injury or illness, you will be entitled to receive temporary total disability benefits. In New Jersey, these benefits are 70% of your average weekly wages before the injury, but there is a maximum and minimum that changes every year. For 2020, the weekly maximum benefit is $945, and the minimum is $252.
Temporary total disability benefits continue until you:
(N.J. Stat. §§ 34:15-12(a), 34:15-14 (2020).)
Once you've reached maximum medical improvement, your doctor will evaluate you to determine if you have any lasting disability as a result of your injury and, if so, to what extent. If you're permanently and totally disabled—meaning that you can’t work at all because of your injury—you will continue to receive weekly payments at your temporary total rate. However, once you’ve received these benefits for 450 weeks, you’ll have to go through an evaluation and prove that you underwent physical or educational rehabilitation (if ordered to do so) but are still unable to earn at your pre-injury level. If you can show that, your benefits will be extended as long as you’re still disabled, with the amount of your payments reduced in proportion to any wages that you’re actually able to earn.
Certain severe injuries—such as the loss of both eyes, hands, arms, feet, or legs, or a combination of any two—are automatically considered to result in permanent and total disability. (N.J. Stat. § 34:15-12 (2020).)
If your work-related injury or illness has left you with a lasting medical condition or lost function (often called an impairment) but you’re still able to work in some capacity, you may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits. The amount you’ll receive will depend on the extent of your impairment and the affected part of your body, as well as on your pre-injury wages.
New Jersey provides a schedule of disabilities listing the maximum benefits for impairments to certain body parts—such as a hand, arm, foot, leg, or eye—at different levels (expressed in terms of a percentage of lost function). For example, if your leg was amputated as a result of your injury, you would receive 315 weeks' worth of benefits, at 70% of your pre-injury wages, up to a total maximum of about $218,295 (in 2020). But if you only lost 50% of the use of a leg, you’d receive 157.5 weeks' worth of benefits, up to a total maximum of $46,078.50 in 2020. (You can find New Jersey’s current schedule of disabilities, as well as the current maximum and minimum disability rates, on the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development site.)
For permanent impairments to other body parts (such as your head, spine, or organs), you may receive a “nonscheduled award” for a portion of the maximum time period (600 weeks) that corresponds to the level of your disability. For example, if your doctor assigns you a 10% disability rating to the body as a whole, you can receive 60 weeks’ worth of payments. Here again, the weekly amount will be based on 70% of your pre-injury wages, up to the dollar limit. (N.J. Stat. § 34:15-12 (2020).)
You may receive other types of workers’ comp benefits in New Jersey, including:
(N.J. Stat. §§ 34:15-12(e), 34:15-13, 34:15-15 (2020).)
As you can see, workers’ comp benefits cover only a portion of your lost wages and don’t include anything for the pain and suffering caused by your injury. While this may seem unfair, it is part of the trade-off inherent in the workers’ comp system. The advantage of workers’ comp is that you can get benefits relatively quickly without filing a lawsuit and proving that your employer was at fault for causing your injury. The downside is that you can’t get the full value of your losses. (However, you may be able to sue outside of the worker’s comp system in certain limited situations.)