Layoffs Rights for New Jersey Civil Service Employees
Tough economic times often result in reduced tax revenue, which in turn can lead to public sector layoffs. However, even if challenging times, New Jersey Civil Service law gives important rights to public employees during layoffs.
First, what is a layoff? Under New Jersey Civil Service law, a layoff is the act terminating a permanent employee’s job, a demotion, or reduced hours, for economic reasons. Civil Service Law is clear that employers cannot use layoffs to impose discipline. Different Civil Service rules apply to layoffs and discipline, and employees affected by layoffs and discipline in Civil Service have different rights.
Employers Must Explore Pre-Layoff Alternatives
Employer must try to avoid layoffs if possible, and if not they have a duty to try to lessen the impact of layoffs by utilizing pre-layoff actions. Voluntary pre-layoff alternatives include: voluntary furloughs; leaves of absence without pay; job sharing; reduced work hours; temporary demotions; and any other actions the employer can use to avoid layoffs. Voluntary alternatives to layoffs do not lesson employees' layoff rights. Indeed, employees continue to accrue seniority in their original title.
If voluntary alternatives are not enough to prevent layoffs, the New Jersey Civil Service Law requires employers to impose involuntary alternatives, such as separating employees without permanent status; promotion and hiring freezes; returning provisional employees to their permanent positions; cost-saving reassignments; and assisting employees who might wish to transfer or find other employment.
New Jersey Civil Service Commission Review
The New Jersey Civil Service Commission must approve layoffs plans, which must be submitted by the employer at least 30 days before layoff notices are issued.
Seniority and Layoff Rights
Non-permanent employees are laid off first, and then permanent employees are in reverse order of seniority. After notification, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission determines seniority rights. Layoff rights and seniority are determined as of the scheduled effective date of the layoff.
Civil Service Regulations define “seniority” for layoffs (except for police and fire positions), as:
[T]he amount of continuous permanent service in the jurisdiction, regardless of title. An employee's continuous permanent service accumulated prior to an intergovernmental transfer… shall be considered as continuous permanent service in the jurisdiction. Seniority shall be based on total calendar years, months, and days in continuous permanent service regardless of work week, work year, or part-time status.
1. A resignation/new appointment … shall not be considered a break in continuous service.
Seniority, Police and Fire Titles
For police officers and firefighters in both State and local service, “seniority” in layoffs is defined as:
the amount of continuous permanent service in an employee's current permanent title and other titles that have (or would have had) lateral or demotional rights to the current permanent title. A police officer's continuous permanent service accumulated prior to an intergovernmental transfer… shall be considered as continuous permanent service in the jurisdiction unless the police officer waives all accumulated sick leave and seniority rights in effecting the transfer. Seniority shall be based on total calendar years, months, and days in title regardless of work week, work year, or part-time status.
"Police titles" are not just "police officers," but include all law enforcement positions which require entry level employees to complete a police training course.
When two or more employees have equal seniority, ie., when they are "tied," the Civil Service Regulations set out how priority ties are broken.
Deductions From Seniority
Suspensions, many unpaid leaves of absence, and time when an employee is laid off are deducted from seniority. However, many other leaves, both paid and unpaid, are included when calculating seniority. While layoff periods are deducted from seniority, when an employee is rehired from a special reemployment list, the layoff period will not be deducted.
Notice of Layoff
Written notice must be given to affected employees at least 45 days before separation or demotion. The notice expires 120 days after receipt unless extended by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. If the notice expires, new notices must be given. Copies must be given to the Commission and the union. Involuntary reassignments of affected employees are generally prohibited for twelve months after the notice without permission from the Civil Service Commission.
A “lateral right” or “lateral title right” means a permanent employee can displace (or “bump”) another employee holding a comparable title. Lateral title rights are based on order of seniority.
A “demotional right” or “demotional title right” allows a permanent employee to bump another employee in a lower title in the same layoff unit. Employees are also ranked for demotional title rights by seniority.
Special Reemployment Rights
Laid off permanent employees also have “special reemployment” rights. This means they have the right to placed on a list for rehire to the same position, or a lateral and lower related titles based on the permanent title from which they were laid off. These lists are referrerd to as “special reemployment” lists. These lists include current and former permanent employees who were laid off, demoted, or laterally displaced in lieu of layoff Employers in New Jersey Civil Service jurisdictions must hire or promote from a special reemployment list certified by the Commission if one exists. Special reemployment lists take priority over other lists and have unlimited duration. Eligibles are ranked on special reemployment lists within class codes or class levels by according to title and seniority. Employees who accept appointment to a vacancy in lieu of separation forfeit any special reemployment rights.
Veterans Preference and Layoffs
The veterans preference has limited applicability in layoffs, and comes into play only when seniority is equal. Thus, when seniority is equal, disabled veterans will be laid off last, and veterans laid off only before disabled veterans and after all others.
Appeals to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission
Permanent employees and employees in their working test periods may appeal a layoff. In “good faith” appeals employees must demonstrate that their employer laid off them off or demoted them in lieu of layoff for reasons other than economy, efficiency or related reasons. Employees may also appeal to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission for determination of their layoff rights on the grounds that their layoff rights or seniority were incorrectly determined and/or applied. In both cases, appeals must be filed within 20 days of receipt of the final notice of status. Likewise, in both types of civil service layoff appeals the burden of proof is on the employee.
Our New Jersey Civil Service attorneys represent public employees in all aspects of New Jersey Civil Service law. This includes department or employer level hearings, appeals to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, hearings and trials before administrative law judges in the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, and appeals to New Jersey’s appellate courts. Contact us to speak with one of our New Jersey employment attorneys. Please call us at (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form on this page. We can help.