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Paid first responders diagnosed with work-related post-traumatic stress disorder would receive employment protections under a bill approved last week.

Employers will be prohibited from firing, harassing or discriminating against an employee who or threatening to do so, on the basis that the employee requested qualification-related leave a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a bill that cleared the Assembly on a unanimous vote.

First responders take care of the community before they take care of their families and myself, said Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-Hudson), the bill’s sponsor. “Most of them don’t want to bring it home, and that’s where they get quiet and don’t talk about it until they’re spinning,” she said.

Lawmakers’ push to bring legislation closer to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk comes amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic a pandemic that forced first responders to confront stressful and sometimes traumatic situations. But even before the pandemic, first responders faced mental health challenges. An estimated 30% of first responders develop behavioral disorders, including but not limited to depression and PTSD, compared to an estimated 20% of the general population Bulletin of 2018 from drug addiction and mental health.

Chaparro said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle “care about the mental health of first responders, their well-being, and we value them and want to do what’s right for them.”

What is included in the bill

The bill provides that the employer must restore employees to the position and duties they held prior to the leave, if the leave was related to a qualifying diagnosis of PTSD. Ability to return to work must be documented by a licensed physician or licensed mental health professional.

To qualify, PTSD must be diagnosed by a qualified physician or mental health professional. Post-traumatic stress disorder must be a direct result of the employee experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event in the course of their normal or assigned duties.

Measurementrepeatedly would allow in the employer be sued if they hArased, to discriminated or take revenged against an employee, or refused to restore them to their former position.

“People in the EMS business or the EMS industry are called upon to take care of patients, usually at the worst time of their lives. And some of those situations that you find yourself in are things that even with all the training, you can’t really prepare for,” said Andy Lovell, registered paramedic and chief of emergency medical services for the county. Gloucester.

“When you’re responding to a situation that might involve someone who’s very close in age to your family member, sometimes it’s hard not to imagine your family member in that situation,” Lovell said. “And those are the calls that leave a lasting impression on you throughout your career.”

Claims for violations by the employer

If the employer secretions, harasses, discriminates or retaliates, or threatens to do means against employee, or refuses to restore them to their previous position, that employee can file a lawsuit, the bill says. In addition, the court may impose a civil penalty in the amount $5,000 for the first violation, $10,000 for each subsequent violation and reinstatement of full fringe benefits and lost wages.

“I think the important part is really for them [first responders] to be able to feel that they can seek help, whether it’s support from a supervisor, a peer program, outside agencies such as therapists, psychiatrists, and primary care physicians, where they can … discuss and process some of ” Dr. Kate Stowell, chief behavioral health physician at Rutgers University, said in an October interview.

The first resource for those working in EMS is always a partner or co-workers, Lovell said. That includes listening kindly so the person answering doesn’t feel like they’re the only one going through it, he said. More formal resources available in Gloucester County include employee assistance programs that may offer referrals to a professional.

State resources include programs like Mission Hope, Lovell said. Mission Hope NJ provides support, education and resources for New Jersey First Responders and their families struggling with PTSD symptoms, additional trauma, depression, and anxiety.

“The bill is important because it basically says to responders, ‘It’s OK if I can say I need help,'” Lovell said.

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