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Jobs and Employment
“Severe Misconduct” Disqualification Removed from Unemployment Law
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On August 24, 2018, Governor Murphy signed a new law that removes the “severe misconduct” disqualification from the unemployment law and changes the definition of “misconduct” (also referred to as “regular” or “simple” misconduct). It also reduces the penalty for misconduct from an eight-week disqualification from benefits to a six-week disqualification. These changes mark an important, positive change in the unemployment process for New Jersey’s workers.

Prior to 2010, the unemployment law contained two types of misconduct disqualifications: misconduct and gross misconduct. A person found by the New Jersey Department of Labor to have been fired for misconduct was disqualified from unemployment benefits for six weeks, and a person fired for gross misconduct (conduct punishable as a first, second, third, or fourth degree crime) was completely disqualified from benefits. In addition to the disqualification, a person terminated for gross misconduct could not reapply for benefits for one year.

In 2010, New Jersey lawmakers added a third type of misconduct to the unemployment law called “severe misconduct.” Severe misconduct completely disqualified a person from benefits until they worked at least eight weeks and earned ten times their weekly benefit rate in a new job. The law also increased the penalty for regular misconduct from six weeks to eight weeks. The addition of the severe misconduct standard caused great confusion and created a system that imposed harsh penalties for relatively minor violations. Severe misconduct penalized low-wage workers, who are terminated for minor violations (like being a few minutes late to work), far more often than higher paid workers. By removing severe misconduct and redefining simple misconduct, the unemployment law is more clear and fair.

Under the new law, claimants fired from their jobs for misconduct now may only be disqualified from unemployment benefits for misconduct or 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.” The penalty for misconduct is once again, a six-week disqualification from benefits. The definition of and penalty for gross misconduct has not been changed.    ​​​​

3/27/2020