New Jersey Legislature Increases Workers’ Compensation Parking Lot Liability And Exposure For Employers

New Jersey employers will now be subject to yet another expansion of the definition of compensable employment with the Approval of Senate Bill S771 on January 10, 2022. This bill amends Section 36 of the New Jersey Workers Compensation Act by expanding the definition of “employment” as it pertains to accidents involving employee use of an employer owned or designated parking area. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Nicholas P. Scuteri, who is also a practicing attorney. The amended section now reads as follows:

Employment shall also be deemed to commence, if an employer provides or designates a parking area for use by an employee, when an employee arrives at the parking area prior to reporting for work and shall terminate when an employee leaves the parking area at the end of a work period; provided that, if the site of the parking area is separate from the place of employment, an employee shall be deemed to be in the course of employment while the employee travels directly from the parking area to the place of employment prior to reporting for work and while the employee travels directly from the place of employment to the parking area at the end of a work period.

This is a major change in our Worker’s Compensation law. Previously, an employer in New Jersey was liable for an injury to an employee utilizing a parking lot at work if the employer owns or controls the parking lot in question. The emphasis previously was on employer control and ownership of the risk which was the alleged cause of the work-related injury, such as a pot hole in the lot, another employee striking a co-employee, etc. This new act amending the definition of employment with respect to parking lots extends employer liability by making employers responsible even when an employee is traveling on a public street or sidewalk while traveling from a remote, or off-site, parking lot to the actual workplace. For example, previously, if an employee tripped and fell on an employer owned parking lot, or in a parking lot not owned but controlled or designated by the employer as an employee parking area, the employer would face liability for the compensable injury.

Generally, there previously was no liability for injuries off the lot itself, albeit with few exceptions. This new definition now places liability for workers compensation benefits on the employer for employees injuring injured while traveling from a remote designated parking area to the place of employment, regardless of the nature of the risk causing and alleged injury. It’s obvious that this new amendment will expose employers to a variety of new forms of potential liability. For example, broken sidewalks, broken curbing, being struck by an automobile, etc., are now, under this new definition, the responsibility of an employer whether or not they have any control whatsoever over the cause or the site of the employee injury while traveling from a designated parking area. It is obviously too early to state definitively how much this amendment will increase exposure, premiums, etc. However, with this change in the definition of employment employers may have to seriously consider whether they wish to continue offering off-site or remote parking areas to employees.

If you have any additional questions, comments or concerns about this topic or any other issues related to your worker’s compensation needs, please feel free to contact the worker’s compensation group here at Brown & Connery, LLP via email or call 856-854-8900.

By:  Alfred P. Vitarelli, Associate at Brown & Connery, LLP