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New Jersey Assembly Committee Votes To Approve Hiring Preference Bill As Part of New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act

By on January 29, 2021 in Legislation with 0 Comments

Employers need to be aware of an Assembly bill that would turn the workers’ compensation statute into an employment protection law.  The Assembly Labor Committee recently passed A-2617 sponsored by Assembly members Murphy, Benson, and Reynolds-Jackson.  The bill will require an employer with at least 50 employees to provide a hiring preference to an injured employee who has reached maximal medical improvement, is unable to return to his or her former position, but can perform the essential duties of an existing, unfilled position.

This bill is problematic for employers for many reasons: first, it attempts to turn a statutory benefits law – the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act — into an employment protection statute.  Second, there are already labor laws in New Jersey that protect employees, such as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the ADA.  Third, there is no explanation of the circumstances in which employers can reject the preference or prove it should not apply.  In fact, there is no mention that the employer has any right whatsoever not to provide a job to someone who fits the criteria noted above.

Suppose the injured employee is less qualified than another applicant for the open position. Does the injured worker’s status as one who has reached maximal medical improvement trump the more qualified applicant’s credentials? Suppose the outside applicant also has a disability and is more qualified for the job? Further, in what court would the law be enforced?  New Jersey workers’ compensation judges do not have the power to enforce employment laws.  Clearly, claimants cannot prosecute failure to rehire claims in workers’ compensation court.

The Workers’ Compensation Act provides for medical, temporary and permanent partial and total disability benefits. That is all the statute has ever been intended to do.  If the law is only enforceable in civil court, why is this law not being considered as part of the NJLAD?  One overriding question employers will have is what does this proposed bill do that the NJLAD and ADA do not already do? This proposed bill also fails to mention anything at all about requests for reasonable accommodation, the need for an interactive dialogue or defenses of the employer such as undue hardship.  In that sense, this proposed bill seems to override existing disability discrimination laws.

Upon committee approval of the legislation, Murphy, Benson and Reynolds-Jackson issued the following joint statement:

“Work related injuries can be traumatic and devastating. No injured employee should be left without options for work. This bill will ensure that those who are unable to return to their previous position will still be able to put their efforts towards helping in a different role for their employers.

 “Those who have been injured in their place of work should not be cast aside with unemployment if they cannot resume their previous position. These people are still valuable employees who can contribute to their employers and company.

“The transition back to work after suffering an injury can be difficult. It is important for companies to offer ways for these employees to continue to contribute in the workplace, provide for their families, and resume successful careers.”

These sentiments are worthy of consideration, yet one must ask the committee members why would an employee who has a work-related spinal condition and reaches maximal medical improvement be entitled to greater protection than an employee who has the same spinal condition from a congenital cause and reaches maximum medical improvement?  Why should employment rights be dependent on workers’ compensation status?  The answer is they shouldn’t be and that the bill makes no sense.  Anyone who has a disability, be it work or non-work related, has equal rights under existing state and federal laws to reasonable accommodation. The committee statements stunningly suggest that that New Jersey Law Against Discrimination — one of the most progressive in the nation — has suddenly become outdated and inadequate.  This will come as news to employers and employment lawyers.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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