Discipline is a major component of New Jersey’s Civil Service system. Discipline under New Jersey Civil Service law is either “major” or “minor.”
The main procedural consequence of the difference major discipline and minor discipline is that major discipline can be appealed to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, while minor discipline can only be challenged in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Major discipline is defined as a suspension or fine of more than five days. Major discipline includes removal, disciplinary demotion, and suspension or fine for more than five working days. The touchstone for all civil service disciplinary procedures, however, is that “The theme of fairness threads its way through the notice, hearing, and right of appeal provisions of our Civil Service Act, and finds particular pertinence in those sections requiring that the causes for [discipline, including] removal constituting ‘just cause’ be enumerated with specificity.”
Examples of infractions which New Jersey Courts have found warrant removal include:
- Police officer sleeping on duty.
- DYFS specialist trainee waiving lighter in face of child during interview.
- Inability to perform the essential functions of the position with reasonable accommodation because of disability is subjected to disciplinary procedures (although this does not imply fault or malfeasance). In such cases, the burden of proof is on the employer.
- Refusing to submit to legally valid order may be grounds for removal
- A prosecutor may condition entry into pre-trial intervention upon the condition of the police officer’s loss of office.
- Assault by correction officer on prisoner.
- Incompetency or inefficiency.
- Fraternization by correction officer with inmate
- Habitual tardiness.
Suspensions for more than five working days constitute major discipline. Suspensions, except those for pending criminal complaint or indictment, cannot exceed six months. In local service, employers have the option to suspend employees with or without pay. However, in State service suspensions are without pay unless suspension with pay is directly authorized by the department head. In both local and State service, a suspension “on the record” may be imposed by an appointing authority where the employer and employee agree. These suspensions have the same effect as non-working suspensions for the purposes of future progressive discipline
Fines may only be imposed when offered by the appointing authority and accepted by the employee. Fines may only be imposed as a form of restitution or in lieu of suspension when a suspension would be detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare. The employee has the option of paying a fine in a lump sum or through installments. There are limits on the size of installments.
Appeals from major discipline must be filed with the Civil Service Commission within 20 days.
Minor discipline is defined as a suspension or fine of five days or less, or a “formal written reprimand.” Grounds for minor discipline are the same as those for major discipline. However, appeal to the Civil Service Commission is not available for appealing minor discipline. Rather, an employee can appeal by filing an action in lieu of prerogative writ with the Superior Court of New Jersey within 45 days.
Employer level hearings determine the final finding of just cause and discipline in both major and minor discipline. Hearings are to be scheduled during the employee’s regular work hours, as far as possible. The employee, employee representative and witnesses are given time off with pay to participate. Such time off includes reasonable travel time.
Our New Jersey employment attorneys represent public employees in all aspects of New Jersey Civil Service Law, including disciplinary hearings and appeals. Call (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form on this page to set up a consultation with one of our civil service attorneys. We can help.