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The New Jersey workers’ compensation system is designed to protect employees who are injured on the job by replacing lost wages while they recover.

The system works as a no-fault guarantee. The law entitles employees who can show they were hurt while working to a portion of their earnings and paid medical care for their injuries. They needn’t prove that their employer was negligent. In exchange for the no-fault guarantee, the law doesn’t allow workers to sue for negligence and collect far more than just lost wages and medical payments.

The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development administers the law through its Division of Workers’ Compensation (www.state.nj.us/labor/wc/wcindex.html).

In some situations, employees aren’t eligible for workers’ comp. For example, they can’t collect benefits if they’re injured:

  • While intoxicated
  • As a result of willful failure to use any reasonable and proper personal protective device furnished by the employer
  • While attempting to injure themselves or unlawfully injuring another person
  • By someone other than a co-worker for personal reasons
  • While participating in a voluntary, off-duty recreational, social or athletic activity unrelated to their job duties
  • By an act of God
  • By horseplay or skylarking

Under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law, employers are held accountable for a variety of workplace injuries, including those that occur in common areas of the workplace, such as parking lots. The law also covers contractors and subcontractors working at the employer’s site for injuries caused “by any defect in the ways, works, machinery, or plant” if the employer or one of its agents had a “duty of seeing they were in proper working condition.”

New Jersey’s workers’ comp law works in concert with other laws, such as the child labor laws and the ADA. Employers who illegally employ minors must pay double the normal workers’ compensation payout, with the excess coming out of the employer’s pocket, not from the insurance company. In addition, employers may be liable through their workers’ comp coverage to remodel a disabled worker’s home to accommodate his limited mobility.

Virtually all New Jersey businesses must carry workers’ comp. Even sole proprietors who employ someone else must provide coverage or be approved for self-insurance.

Tips for reducing workers’ comp costs

One way you can reduce workers’ compensation costs is to encourage employees to return to work as soon as they can.

You can, for example, make available light-duty positions for injured employees who may not be ready to return to more demanding jobs. Work with your insurance carrier to develop a light-duty program.

ADA, FMLA and workers’ compensation

Employees injured at work may also be disabled under the ADA or the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and have a serious medical condition under the FMLA. So HR professionals should make sure to coordinate any unpaid leave and reasonable accommodations, such as light-duty work or intermittent leave, with the insurance carrier.

It’s important to coordinate those claims: Nothing will sink a case faster than evidence that an employer acquiesced to a workers’ comp claim but refused to allow an FMLA claim for the same condition.   

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Excerpted from New Jersey’s 10 Most Critical Employment Laws, a special bonus report available to subscribers of HR Specialist: New Jersey Employment Law.

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