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New Jersey Senate Chambers

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Peter J. Barnes, III and Jim Whelan that would help New Jersey’s unemployed gain access to the workforce by ensuring they are not discriminated against due to their employment status was approved today by the Senate and now heads to the Governor’s desk. The bill would prohibit employers from using an applicant’s current employment status as a factor in hiring decisions.

“Often the stigma of being unemployed can have a greater impact on whether or not someone gets an interview or a job offer than the person’s qualifications or experience,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex. “Unfortunately, employers assume that a long break in employment is a reflection of the candidate’s inability to effectively do the work rather than a byproduct of a bad economy. We must ensure that employers look at the individual, their skills and training and their overall fit for the position when making hiring decisions, helping all applicants with equal footing in the job market.”

“Being unemployed can have serious financial and emotional effects on any individual, particularly if it is for a long length of time, leaving them with a constant feeling of hopelessness and defeat when looking for a job. This pressure is often compounded by the fact that the longer someone is unemployed the more difficult it is for them to reenter the workforce,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “We can go a long way to fixing these issues by implementing a bill to stop discrimination against the unemployed, who deserve the same opportunities everyone else has been granted.”

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 Senate with a vote of 30-5. The Assembly approved the legislation earlier this month 53-22-3.  It now heads to the Governor’s desk.

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