Defining Severe Misconduct when Denying Unemployment Benefits
In 2010, the New Jersey State Legislature and Governor Chris Christie revised New Jersey’s Unemployment Compensation Law to combat the significant increase in funds needed to pay unemployment benefits as a result of the rise in the unemployment rate in New Jersey.
To achieve this problem of fast-depleting funds for unemployment benefits, the state created a new category of conduct, called “severe misconduct,” which would allow the state to disqualify employees from receiving unemployment benefits.
The prior two categories of misconduct which could be assessed were: “simple misconduct” and “gross misconduct.” Simple misconduct includes actions that are improper, intentional, malicious, or exhibit a willful disregard of the employer’s interest, a deliberate violation of the employer’s rules, a disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect, or negligence in such degree or recurrence as to manifest culpability, wrongful intent, or evil design. Simple misconduct disqualifies the individual from disability for eight weeks (the week in which the misconduct occurred and seven weeks immediately following that).
Gross misconduct includes acts that are criminal, in the first, second, third, or fourth degree under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. Employees fired for gross misconduct are disqualified from receiving any unemployment benefits.
The revisions implemented by the State in 2010 regarding “severe misconduct” failed to define severe misconduct, but included examples, such as: repeated violations of an employer’s rules, repeated lateness or absences after a written warning, falsification of records, physical assault or threats, misuse of benefits, sick time, or leave, theft of company property, excessive use of intoxicants or drugs on work premises, or where the behavior is malicious and deliberate.