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Barnes-Whelan Measure to Help New Jersey’s Unemployed Approved by Senate Labor Committee

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Legislation sponsored by Senators Peter J. Barnes, III and Jim Whelan that would help New Jersey unemployed gain access to the workforce by ensuring they are not discriminated against due to their employment status was approved today by the Senate Labor Committee.

“The longer someone is unemployed the more difficult it is for them to find a new job, particularly when employers use applicant’s unemployment status in their hiring decisions,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex. “A few years ago in New Jersey, we banned employers from advertising that the unemployed ‘need not apply,’ now it is time to take it a step further and ensure that they don’t hold someone’s unemployment against them. This is the only way that the state’s long-term unemployed will escape the Catch-22 they are caught in where they can’t get a job without a job.”

The bill would prohibit employers from using an applicant’s current employment status as a factor in hiring decisions.

“New Jersey’s unemployed are just as likely to be as talented, skilled and hardworking as their employed counterparts, but often hit a patch of bad luck they cannot seem to escape,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “Unfortunately, employers often attach a stigma to unemployment that is blocking these men and women from getting back into the workforce.  We are now asking that New Jersey employers evaluate a person on their skills and qualifications rather than their employment status when making hiring decisions.”

The bill, S-1440, would not prohibit the employer from inquiring about circumstances surrounding an applicant’s separation from their previous position, considering specific job-related qualifications such as a professional or occupational license, registration, certificate, permit or other credential or the level of education, training or the amount of experience the applicant has when making hiring decisions. The bill would also allow employers to continue to consider only applicants who are currently employed by the employer.

A recent study by Rand Ghayad of NortheasternUniversity found that those who have been off the employment rolls for long periods of time were significantly less likely to receive an interview for a job than those with the same or even less experience and qualifications who were currently employed.  It is thought that this is due to a perceived loss of skills and networks during the person’s period out of work.

The bill supplements a 2011 Barnes-sponsored law that prohibits employers from posting ads that specify out-of-work individuals would not be considered. The bill would authorize a $1,000 penalty for a first offense, $5,000 penalty for a second offense and a $10,000 penalty for any subsequent offense.

The bill was approved by the Committee with a vote of 3-2. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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