New Jersey Unemployment Law Clearer and Better for Employees.
September 17, 2018
Francine Foner, Esq.
On August 24, 2018, New Jersey Governor Philip D. Murphy signed into law a bill which provides several improvements for employees to the state’s law governing unemployment benefits. The new law simplifies and clarifies the circumstances under which an employee can be disqualified for benefits due to “misconduct.” This change repeals a 2008 amendment to the New Jersey unemployment law enacted during the Christie administration which created a confusing and ambiguous definition of the types of misconduct for which an employee could be disqualified for benefits. Thus, since the 2008 amendment, many New Jersey employees were unfairly disqualified for benefits, even when their employer failed to appear or provide any written proof of alleged reasons for denying an employee unemployment benefits.
Under the new law, there are two types of misconduct for which an employee can be denied benefits, “misconduct” and “gross misconduct.” “Misconduct” is defined as:
conduct which is improper, intentional, connected with the individual’s work, within the individual’s control, not a good faith error of judgment or discretion, and is either a deliberate refusal, without good cause, to comply with the employer’s lawful and reasonable rules made known to the employee or a deliberate disregard of standards of behavior the employer has a reasonable right to expect, including reasonable safety standards and reasonable standards for a workplace free of drug and substance abuse.
This new definition eliminates a host of other behaviors which were included in the old definition of misconduct, which unfairly disqualified many employees for things which were outside of their control. In addition, in the event an employee is found to have been discharged for misconduct, as defined above, the employee will be disqualified for 5 weeks of benefits, whereas under the prior law the employee lost 7 weeks of benefits.
In addition, under the new law, an employee may be totally disqualified for unemployment benefits for “gross misconduct,” which requires the commission of a criminal act. “Gross misconduct” is defined as being that which is:
connected with the work because of the commission of an act punishable as a crime of the first, second, third or fourth degree under the “New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice,” N.J.S.2C:1-1 et seq.
Under the prior law, total disqualification for benefits could also occur under a third category of “severe misconduct,” which was defined as including some behaviors which were the same or similar to behaviors included in the prior misconduct category. To avoid any confusion and to provide a workable definition, the new law eliminates the “severe misconduct” category entirely.
The new law also shifts the burden to the employer to provide documentation demonstrating that the employee’s actions constitute misconduct or gross misconduct. Previously an employee could be disqualified for benefits for misconduct even where the employer failed to provide any written documentation or failed to participate in the telephone interview by the hearing officer.
It should be noted that while this law clarifies and simplifies disqualification for unemployment benefits based upon an employee’s misconduct, it does not modify any of the other reasons for disqualification for unemployment benefits under the New Jersey unemployment law, such as voluntarily quitting employment, or not having worked for a sufficient amount of time.
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