The New Jersey Assembly Committee has voted to approve Assembly Bill No. 2617, a hiring preference bill that would affect employers with 50 employees or more. The hiring preference bill requires such employers to provide a hiring preference to an injured employee who has reached maximal medical improvement, but cannot return to their former position. Under the proposed bill, an employer would have to hire the injured employee instead of a new employee to fill a vacant position, as long as the injured employee can perform the essential duties of the vacant position.
The bill in its current state does not provide further guidance regarding the proposed hiring preference. There is no information in the bill indicating whether an employer must provide the injured employee with a hiring preference over a prospective employee who is more qualified, over an employee with their own disability, or over another employee who is equally qualified and seeking a change in position. There is no mention in the bill of other circumstances or factors that an employer may weigh when deciding on who to hire in such situations.
The bill does not mention what would happen if an employer disregards the preference and hires someone other than the injured employee for the open position. There is no mention in the bill of what the penalty would be or what mechanism there would be to enforce the proposed law. The bill also does not specify where alleged violations of the proposed hiring preference law would be adjudicated, including whether the New Jersey Superior Court or the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation would hear claims involving such alleged violations.
The statute provides that Judges of Compensation may decide issues regarding medical, temporary disability, and permanent disability benefits that are due to injured workers. Employment issues are generally within the power of a superior court judge to adjudicate, and not the Division of Workers’ Compensation. The bill is seeking to amend the Workers’ Compensation Statute, but it does not vest the power to adjudicate any hiring preference disputes to Judges of Compensation. Employers will need to keep a vigilant eye on this proposed legislation.
Goldberg Segalla will continue to closely monitor the bill and provide further updates as they become available. For more information or immediate guidance, contact: