WITH SUMMER IN FULL SWING ACCOMPANIED BY RECORD-HIGH TEMPERATURES, EMPLOYERS SHOULD CONSIDER DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING MEASURES TO MITIGATE THE RISK OF EMPLOYEES DEVELOPING HEAT-RELATED ILLNESSES WHILE WORKING OUTSIDE
HEATSTROKE AND OTHER HEAT-RELATED ILLNESSES HAVE BEEN FOUND TO BE COMPENSABLE UNDER THE NEW JERSEY WORKERS’ COMPENSATION STATUTE AND EMPLOYERS COULD BE SUBJECT TO WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CLAIMS FOR A HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS
EMPLOYERS FACED WITH HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS CLAIMS SHOULD CONDUCT THOROUGH INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE FACTUAL CIRCUMSTANCES OF SUCH CLAIMS TO DETERMINE COMPENSABILITY
With summer in full-swing, record heat waves continue to make headlines across the country. For employers whose employees work primarily outside, there is always the possibility that an employee may suffer a heat-related illness or heatstroke while on the job. This alert addresses several considerations employers in New Jersey will want to keep in mind if they are ever faced with a New Jersey workers’ compensation claim for a heat-related illness.
First, employers may want to consider developing and implementing proactive measures during heat waves to help mitigate the risk of employees developing heat-related illnesses while working outside. Consider providing water, shade, and adequate breaks from the heat to help prevent workers from developing heatstroke or other heat-related illnesses, which can lead to claims for workers’ compensation benefits.
Heatstroke and heat-related illnesses have been found to be compensable under the New Jersey workers’ compensation statute when an employee can show that the heat-related illness was produced by causes which are characteristic of or peculiar to the trade, occupation, or place of employment, and that the work contributed in a material degree to the illness. Further, the employee must also show that the illness arose out of the employment and occurred during the course of employment.
To determine compensability, employers will want to conduct an investigation into any relevant emergency room records or other relevant medical records to determine the cause of an employee’s heat-related illness. For instance, if the medical records indicate that another factor or medical condition unrelated to the employee’s employment caused the employee to faint or pass out then compensability would be called into question.
Employers should also consider the circumstances of any alleged heat-related incident in relation to the employee’s job duties to determine whether the alleged heat-related illness was produced by causes that are peculiar to the employee’s employment and whether the employment contributed in a material degree to the heat-related illness. For example, if the employee primarily works outdoors in the summer heat, then this fact would lend towards finding a heat-related illness claim as compensable.
However, even if a heat-related illness claim is found to be compensable, the employee would still have to prove that he or she is entitled to permanency benefits if a formal claim petition is filed with the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation. Proving entitlement to permanency benefits could be an uphill battle for some employees who had a full recovery from any alleged heat-related illness.
Accordingly, employers faced with heat-related illness claims should conduct thorough investigations into the factual circumstances of such claims to determine compensability.