On July 2, 2010, Governor Christopher Christie signed into law an amendment to the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Act, which makes it more difficult for employees fired for work-related misconduct to receive New Jersey unemployment insurance benefits. Specifically, the amended law creates a new category of disqualification for “severe misconduct.” It also extends the period of disqualification for employees fired for misconduct that was not severe by two weeks, bringing the disqualifiaction up to eight weeks in total. Both changes were originally proposed by Governor Christie but not included in the Senate Bill. The Governor subsequently conditionally vetoed the unemployment insurance Bill unless the Senate accepted his revisions.
The first of these changes is likely to have a substantial impact on employees in New Jersey. Before, employees who were fired from their jobs would be completely disqualified from collecting unemployment benefits only only if they committed a crime connected with the work. Now, a complete disqualification also applies to employees who lost their jobs as a result of:
- repeated violations of an employer’s rule or policy;
- repeated lateness or absences after a written warning by the employer;
- falsification of records;
- physical assault or threats;
- misuse of benefits;
- misuse of sick time;
- abuse of leave;
- theft of company property;
- excessive use of drugs or alcohol on work premises;
- theft of time; and
- other malicious and deliberate conduct.
Given this broad definition of “severe misconduct,” employees engaging in misconduct at work are risking not only their job security, but also their ability to collect unemployment benefits if they get fired. Employees disqualified for severe misconduct remain ineligible for unemployment benefits until after they have worked in a new job for four weeks. In the current economic climate, this is a very harsh penalty.
It is not uncommon for employers to use misconduct as an excuse to fire an employee for an unlawful reason. If you believe you lost your job because your employer discriminated or retaliated against you, please consider contacting an experienced New Jersey discrimination attorney.