New Jersey’s Civil Service System was enacted to keep politics, discrimination, favoritism out of employment decisions. Therefore, civil service employees may only be disciplined for “just cause.” The New Jersey and Federal Constitutions require that before any government body may take action against anyone they must receive due process, which is notice, the right to be heard, and fundamental fairness. Since government employers, even acting in their role as employers, are still the government, employees must receive due process before they can be disciplined. The New Jersey Civil Service Act and the Civil Service Commission’s regulations implementing it provide that due process to employees.
Written Notice and the Opportunity for a Hearing
When a government employer wants to discipline a civil service a permanent, career service employee or an employee in a working test period, it must give the employee written notice of the charges and specifications alleged against her (specifications are a statement of the facts underlying the charges) and the opportunity for a hearing at the employer level by the governmental jurisdiction or its designee. The employer must hold the hearing within 30 days of the notice unless the employee waives her right it.
The notice is given when the employer serves the employee with a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action (“PNDA,” known as a Form 31-A). The details of the charges and specifications must give the employee sufficient details so that he can prepare a defense. Discipline cannot be imposed unless the employee receives notice and the opportunity for a hearing.
An exception to the notice requirement is that a suspension may be imposed immediately prior to the final hearing when the employer determines that the employee is not fit for duty or if an immediate suspension is necessary because of health, safety, or effective provision of public services. If the employee is suspended immediately, a PNDA within five days giving the employee the opportunity for a hearing to challenge the immediate suspension. Likewise, employees may be immediately suspended when they are charged with a crime on or directly related to the job. Hearings on immediate suspensions may be oral or based on written submissions.
Hearings on final discipline must be held within 30 days of the notice unless waived by the employee. However, if the employee misses the 30 day limit the charges do not need to be dismissed if the employee was not prejudiced.
The employee must request the hearing within five days of receiving the PNDA or the hearing will be waived. This allows the employer to impose final discipline without a hearing. The hearing officer may be an employee of the appointing authority or a designated representative, although the best practice would be to use a neutral third party as hearing officer. The employee may be represented by an attorney or union representative. The employee may present and examine witnesses. Employees are not required to testify, but the employer may cross-examine them if they do.
Appointing Authority Decision.
Employers must render a final decision within 20 days after the hearing unless the parties agree to a longer period. The employer will give the employee notice of the decision and penalty in a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action (“FNDA,” or Form 31-C). Employees may be served personally or by certified mail.
Our New Jersey attorneys represent government employees all aspects of New Jersey employment law, including civil service disciplinary hearings and appeals. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a consultation with one of our New Jersey Civil Service Attorneys. We can help.