Important NJ Worker’s Comp Changes for 2022

New Jersey employers will be facing two important changes to the Workers Compensation system in the New Year. These changes will bring additional costs for employers (while one improves benefits to the injured worker as well) and one change will potentially impact hiring processes for employers.

NJ Work Comp benefits to increase by 10%

As noted in John Geaney’s NJ Work Comp blog, work comp benefits in New Jersey will be increasing by 10% in 2022. This increase impacts weekly payments to employees who are out on workers comp as well as impacting the overall payments for permanent disability for a claimant and increasing the lawyers fees that are paid. One thing to remember is that the increase in payments for permanency awards still happens even if the injured employee even if there was no impact to their wages.

Employers can work to proactively reduce increased workers compensation costs by using customized job descriptions that are up to date, objective and accurately reflect the minimum essential physical and postural demands of the job title. These job descriptions can be used for post-offer pre-employment physical abilities testing, to help guide physicians and physical therapists in rehabilitating an injured employee safely and efficiently, to help identify appropriate modified duty tasks to help return the employee to the workforce as they recover, and to make accurate comparisons of physical abilities as they relate to essential job demands during a Functional Capacity Evaluation.

Gov. Murphy signs A2617 providing preference to employees who have reached MMI

The additional change to NJ Worker’s Compensation occurred in September of this year when Governor Phil Murphy signed A2617 which provides injured workers who have reached MMI hiring preference when they can no longer return to the position in which they were injured. The law does not fully define how the practice of providing preference to these employees will be implemented. The law applies to employers with 50 or more employees.

However, the one area that is defined within the law is that the injured employee must be able to meet the essential functions of the position for which they are applying.

Following a work-related injury, an employer shall provide a hiring preference to an employee who has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) and is unable to return to the position at which the employee was previously employed for any existing, unfilled position offered by the employer for which the employee can perform the essential functions of the position.”

This new law adds additional importance for an employer to have accurate, objective, and up to date job descriptions for each job title within their organization. Job descriptions should accurately define the minimum essential physical and postural demands related to the essential tasks performed within a job title. The descriptions should be kept up to date and take into account changes in policies, procedures, and even the items utilized to perform tasks – we have seen that shortages of supplies and mitigation procedures have altered how job tasks are performed. If these changes have become permanent in nature, the job description should reflect those changes and not reflect how the job was performed several years ago.

NJ Ergonomics can help employers to better define their job descriptions with accurate and objective measurements of essential job tasks as measured onsite for an employer. We can assist with helping employers put together defensible post-offer pre-employment testing programs to help identify whether job candidates meet the essential physical and postural demands of the position for which they are being hired.

A Different Look At Walking As A Job Demand

The majority of the time when an injured employee is sent for a Functional Capacity Exam (FCE), the provided job description is either two paragraphs long or is a multipage document generated by a state civil service commission. Often, neither of these descriptions provide any guidance on the actual postural and physical demands of the position. FCE teams are left to look for more information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles or if they are lucky, they may get a job description request form returned that has been completed by the employee’s supervisor.

Unfortunately, the returned job description request forms can cause additional confusion about the demands. The individual completing the form may not have a solid understanding of the definition of certain postural tasks and how they are looked at by ergonomists, physical therapists, or physicians. A recent case in point was a job description that I reviewed that included only occasional sitting (marked as less than 33% of the work day) but included constant driving of delivery vehicles (67% to 100% of the work day). After a discussion with the employer, they had a better understanding of the disconnect in the job description that they had created.

In the case of barbers and hair stylists, we have seen forms that had been completed where walking was marked as seldom or occasional. Never marked as frequent or constant. On those forms, standing is normally denoted as a constant demand which is easy to understand. But, much of the day in a barbershop or hair salon is comprised of short walks of maybe 30 feet or less – walking to get supplies, walking a customer to the cash register, etc. But an even bigger part of the day is made up of even shorter walks in the 2 foot to 6 foot range. Barbers work their way around the chair from side to side as they cut hair and when they take that 6 foot walk from the back of the chair to the counter to grab scissors, change a guard on the clippers, or to grab the razor and hot shaving cream – if you are lucky enough to be in an old school barber shop. Those steps and those short walks add up over the course of a day, a week, a year, or many years. The evidence of these steps can be seen in the ring around the base of this barber chair.

When job description request forms need to be completed, there needs to be some basic education for the person assigned to complete the form in terms of definitions of postural and physical demands. In addition, there needs to be a review of the form and a dialogue between the evaluation team and the employer when these forms bring additional questions. Ideally, an ergonomics professional is available to evaluate and document the job demands to build a customized job description but this may not always be the case due to sensitivity of time constraints. However, we are available to help make this process as quick and painless as possible.

The path of many short walks at Calabrese’s Barber Shop in Keyport, NJ.

Jobs That I Would Like To Write Descriptions For…

At last count, I have written job descriptions for over 80 different job types – and that does not account for differentiation between those job types for different employers.  I love getting to go out and write job descriptions because it is an opportunity for me to do two important things.  It lets me go out, sometimes get dirty, and learn what people do at their jobs.  Secondly, it gives me the opportunity to help share their story of what they do, why they do it, and most importantly how they do it. 

I’ve decided to put together a list of some of the occupations that I would like to have the opportunity to write job descriptions for in 2021.  I know that I will probably see many other job titles not on this list as well as revisit some titles that I have done in the past for new clients.  However, each of these titles holds a little bit of extra interest for me either due to the uniqueness of the job title or the discrepancies that I know exist between what is done in the title and what is contained in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles entry for the job title.

Zookeeper – During the early phases of the pandemic when so many places were shut down, we ended up watching some of the zoo based shows on television.  We have always loved visiting different zoos to learn about different types of animals.  Shortly before the world shut down, I had the opportunity to work with a mental health facility to establish physical and postural demands for the employees that ran the day to day operations of an onsite barn that housed horses, goats, and a couple of other animals.  It was interesting to learn about the tasks that are involved in the care of those animals and I would love to see how those demands change as the size of the animals change.  Turtle Back Zoo, Cape May Zoo, Philly Zoo, I’m available to come help with your job descriptions.

K9 officer – Over the years, I have had the opportunity to measure job demands for regular patrol officers for municipal departments.  While I’ve met K9 officers at events, I have never had the opportunity to discuss actual job demands for their position.   With a good portion of my 10,000 step goal each day going to walking our new puppy, I have a new interest in how these officers interact with their canine partners as well as how their day to day job demands differ from the rest of the officers in the police department.

Mosquito Commission –  As the county I live in is bordered on two sides by water and marshes as well as having a significant numbers of lakes, streams, and rivers, it can get pretty buggy (I live near one of those water/marsh borders so I experience the pain of the mosquitoes every year). The Mosquito Commission works to reduce the mosquito populations through spraying from the air as well as using some unique vehicles to disrupt mosquito hatching areas in the marshes.  It would be interesting to get to see their work up close as well as the vehicles that they use to perform their job. These vehicles and the environments that these employees work in generate some interesting needs in terms of postural demands.

School Nurse – Nursing is an occupation that is unfairly lumped into a catch all entry in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.  There are so many different environments where nursing is performed.  So often, we think about hospitals and doctors offices and forget about the nurses that are tasked with taking care of our children during the school day.  School nurses have had an incredible additional burden placed on them to help take care of students and staff this year in terms of COVID-19.  I would love to have the opportunity to share their story of the things that they take care of that the general public (and their school district administration) may not be aware that they do.

Paraprofessional (schools) – When we were performing Functional Capacity Evaluations, we used to be sent paraprofessionals from local school districts that had been injured in providing assistance and care to assigned students.  In the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, they are placed at the light (20 pounds occasional) work level under the teacher’s assistant entry.  However, many of the paraprofessionals that I have met over the years are working in classrooms where they are performing hands on assistance for children that may not be able to perform certain tasks for themselves – almost in a similar physical demands role to a home health aide or CNA.  They are getting injured performing tasks that are well above that 20 pound occasional demand level.

Land surveyor – Over the last year with people moving out of the city as they realize they can work remotely, land surveyors have been super busy with property surveys to help close sales of houses.  But land surveyors do much more and work in many different environments, from helping to verify flood maps to measuring commercial properties to make sure that footings are where they are supposed to be.

Organ/piano repairer – Last Thanksgiving weekend, I had a short opportunity to watch an organ repairer begin taking apart a large pipe organ in a church for a long overdue repair.  I was amazed to see the collection of pipes and bellows that hide in a room behind a faux wall that make up the bulk of a pipe organ.  This is an occupation that requires many different physical abilities to perform.

Wildlife Conservation officer – My family spends a lot of time outdoors, both here in NJ and when we vacation in Maine, which has resulted in North Woods Law and Lone Star Law becoming favorite television shows for our family.  We also live in an area where we can occasionally find the NJ DEP Conservation Police performing patrols.  They don’t have many officers and their job requires them to perform physically in a variety of different environments.  It would be interesting to get a better understanding of the physical and postural demands for this position.

Blacksmith – This is a job title that I would love to be able to do a comparison of the physical demands for current blacksmiths and how blacksmiths used to perform their profession. I always love watching the blacksmiths do their work at Allaire Village in NJ and at Washington Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania. When they are working, they need to keep track of both the fire used to heat the metal for shaping it as well as use a variety of tools to shape the metal into their intended final product. With the blacksmiths who demonstrate the older, colonial era methods at the parks it would be interesting to do that comparison of how technology has changed the physical demands for metalworking.

A Blacksmith working at Washington’s Crossing.