New Jersey Requires Hiring Preferences for Employees Terminated Due to Workplace Injury

New Hiring Preference

A recent amendment to the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation statute now requires many employers to give a hiring preference to employees who lose their jobs as a result of a workplace injury.

New protections for employees fired due to workplace injuryMore specifically, the worker’s compensation statute now requires employers to provide a “hiring preference” to employees who have reached “maximum medical improvement” after a work-related injury and cannot return to their former job, for “any existing, unfilled position offered by the employer for which the employee can perform the essential duties of the position.”

For example, the statute would apply to employees who physically cannot perform their former job due to a workplace injury, even with a reasonable accommodation.  Likewise, it would apply to employees whose former jobs have been filled during a worker’s compensation medical leave.

Maximum medical improvement (“MMI”) is the point when an injured worker’s medical condition is not expected to improve any further.

Notably, this new requirement applies only to employers with 50 or more employees.

Only Applicable to Vacant Positions

The amendment expressly states that it does not require employers to create new positions to accommodate employees who are unable to return to their former jobs after a workplace injury.  Similarly, it does not require employers to remove another employee from a position, such as by transferring an employee to another position, to create a job opening for an employee who is returning from a worker’s compensation leave. In other words, it applies only to vacant positions.

Further, the amendment does not apply to athletes who work for professional sports teams.

Unanswered Questions

Unfortunately, the amendment does not make it clear how the required hiring preference is supposed to work.  For example, it is unclear if it requires employers to hire any such employee who applies for a vacant position for which he or she is qualified, or if it simply requires the employer to give the employee some degree of preference in the hiring process.

Effective Immediately

This new law went into effect immediately upon Governor Murphy signing it on September 24, 2021.  A copy of the full text of amendment, A2617, is available here.

No Impact on Rights Under New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

The law makes it clear that it does not limit or restrict the right of disabled employees to reasonable accommodation under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

In addition to that requirement to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who have disabilities, the LAD also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because they are disabled, or because they had a disability in the past.  In addition, New Jersey law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because they filed a worker’s compensation claim.

Dedicated to Enforcing Employee Rights

Rabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg, P.C. handles a wide range of employment law claims in New Jersey and New York.  If you lost your job due to a workplace injury or another disability, or if you have another employment law issue, then we invite you to contact us to speak to one of our attorneys.  Our telephone number is (973) 744-4000.

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