The purpose of New Jersey’s Unemployment Compensation Law is protecting people from the harsh effects of losing their jobs, and providing a safety cushion for this sudden loss of employment.
Most employees are “at will” employees. This means that there are no contractual terms of employment or specific requirements for termination. An employer in such a relationship can fire the employee for just about any reason as long as that reason is not discriminatory or retaliatory, i.e. in response to a valid objection by the employee to the legality of the employer’s conduct.
So, an employer can walk into work one day and decide to fire the first person he sees, no matter who that person is, and no matter how well that worker performs her job. In such a situation, although there is no “good” reason for that firing, it is not illegal. However, that employee is able to make a claim for unemployment compensation since her firing was done though no fault of the employee. After all, this is required insurance for which every employee pays.
In order to make a claim for unemployment compensation, the employee is required to have had at least 20 “base weeks” of earnings or have earned a certain minimum required dollar amount. These amounts may be periodically adjusted by the State to reflect changes in income rates, for instance taking into consideration the State’s hourly minimum wage. In 2012, this meant that, in order to qualify for unemployment compensation, the employee had to have worked for the employer for at least 20 weeks in which the employee earned $145.00 or more, or at least $7,300.
In addition to the above requirements, there are many instances in which an employee may be disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation. For instance, an employee may be disqualified from receiving compensation if:
- The employee voluntarily quits without good cause;
- The employee was fired for simple misconduct, such as arriving late to work;
- The employee was fired for severe misconduct, such as repeated violations of the employer’s rules or policies;
- The employee was fired for committing a crime in connect with the work;
- The employee fails to look for a new job;
- If the unemployment was due to a labor dispute, such as participating in a union strike;
- The employee made a fraudulent representation regarding benefits;
- The employee is a full-time student; or
- The employee is unable to work, such as when an employee should instead be receiving disability benefits.
This is not an exhaustive list, and the period of disqualificiation depends largely on the specific facts of the employment and termination.
However, once the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development determines that the employee is indeed eligible for unemployment compensation, an eligible employee may receive unemployment benefits in the amount of sixty percent of the employee’s average weekly wages. However, there is also a cap on the weekly compensation paid which is set by the New Jersey Commission of Labor. In 2012, this cap was set at $611.00 per week.
The eligible employee may receive benefits until the employee obtains new employment or the statutory period for the unemployment compensation runs out. A person can only receive benefits for a time period equal to the number of base weeks she worked for the employer in the base year period (referring to the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the termination). However, the maximum amount of time that a person can collect unemployment compensations is twenty-six weeks, although the government can extend this during economic downturns, and has frequently done so during the current recession.
When an employee is terminated, the employer is supposed to provide the employee with unemployment benefit instructions for filing a claim. The employee should then file her claim with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development as soon as possible. The Department has multiple options for filing a claim, both online and over the phone. The Department will then review the employee’s claim, advise the employer that a claim has been made allowing the employer to provide any input as to whether the employee is eligible for the claim. If there is no objection by the employer, and the Department determines that the employee meets the eligibility requirements, then the claim is approved, the examiner will notify the parties, and the employee will start receiving benefits.
However, if the employer disputes the unemployment claim, alleging that the employee should be considered ineligible for some reason, the examiner may ask the parties to take part in a hearing in which the employer and employee give testimony to help determine the employee’s eligibility. The examiner will consider the testimony, any evidentiary documents and/or witness statements submitted, and make a determination. This determination may be appealed by either side.
Employees have the right to an attorney throughout this process. It is important for employees who are fighting their former employers for unemployment benefits to seek an experience New Jersey employment attorney to represent them in such a hearing so that the employee ensures that the examiner hears and understands all the facts that are relevant to the employee’s eligibility for unemployment compensation.
The New Jersey employment attorneys at McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC are experienced in fighting for employees in unemployment hearings and appeals and can aid wrongfully terminated employees in obtaining unemployment benefits. To learn more about what we can do to help, please e-mail, visit our website, or contact one of our New Jersey employment lawyers at (973) 890-0004.