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Gill, Turner & Weinberg Bills to End Employment Discrimination Based on Credit History and Promoting Pay Equity Advances

TRENTON – A pair of bills sponsored by Senator Nia H. Gill, Senator Shirley K. Turner, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg that would end employment discrimination based on an individual’s credit history and promoting pay equity was approved by the Senate today.

“When employers use credit checks to screen applicants for employment, they are unfairly punishing people who have found themselves in challenging financial circumstances. These individuals could be struggling financially for any number of personal or health reasons.  It is wrong to take into account their financial position, particularly when it has no bearing on the job they are pursuing,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “By ending this discriminatory practice we will better ensure that job seekers are able to get back on their feet and are not penalized simply because they fell on hard times.”

The first bill, S-545, would prohibit an employer from making any inquiries into the credit history or financial status of a current employee or applicant for employment unless a good credit history or financial status is an established bona fide occupational requirement for a particular position. These exemptions would include: a managerial position that involves setting the financial direction or control of the business; a position that involves access to customers’, employers’ or employees’ personal belongings, financial assets or financial information other than that which is customarily provided in a retail transaction; a position that provides an expense account for travel or involves a fiduciary responsibility to the employer. It would also exempt any current or prospective employee being evaluated for a position in law enforcement or as security personnel.

“For the last several years, many residents have found it difficult to find work, and families have found themselves forced to choose between paying credit card bills or making the rent or mortgage payment,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Denying these individuals employment because of their credit history is discrimination, plain and simple. Moreover, it creates a ‘Catch-22’ that leaves them unable to get a job, in order to pay down debt and repair their damaged credit.”

The second bill, S-559, amends the “Law Against Discrimination,” to strengthen protections against employment discrimination and thereby promote equal pay for women by prohibiting any employer from:

  • screening a job applicant based on the applicant’s wage or salary history, including by requiring the applicant’s prior wages, salaries or benefits satisfy any minimum or maximum criteria, or relying on the applicant’s salary in determining a salary amount for the applicant at any stage in the hiring process, including finalizing the employment contract;
  • inquiring, in writing or otherwise, about the salary history of a job applicant, including, but not limited to, the applicant’s compensation and benefits, except that the employer may seek the history if the prospective employee voluntarily, without employer coercion, provides the employer with a written authorization; and
  • taking reprisals against any employee for disclosing to any other employee or former employee of the employer information regarding the job title, occupational category, rate of compensation, the gender, race, ethnicity, military status, or national origin of the employee or any other employee or former employee of the employer.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, on average, women in New Jersey make 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. The national average is 80 cents. African American women in New Jersey typically make 58 cents for every dollar paid to white men, and Latina women make 43 cents for every dollar paid to white men. An Economic Policy Institute report also showed that the wage gap between African-American and a white worker is larger today in the United States than in 1979.

“Employers should base hiring salaries on a candidate’s qualifications and the value of the position to the company, not on the wages earned at past jobs. This is a practice that allows businesses to hire at the lowest possible salary and perpetuates the pay disparities that exist for women and minorities.  This practice often begins early in their careers, causing them to struggle to earn more money as they move up the corporate ladder,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “Eliminating salary history as part of the hiring discussion so that businesses are more inclined to assess candidates based on their education, experience and knowledge of the job is important to creating wage fairness in New Jersey.”

“Women continue to make less than men for the same work, so basing a hiring salary on someone’s previous wages only continues the pay discrimination they may have suffered. A job candidate’s salary history is irrelevant, and should not be relied upon at any point in the hiring process,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “This bill would help to combat wage discrimination based on gender but also on race, age, nationality and other characteristics.”

The Senate released both bills by a vote of 23-14 and 28-10 respectively.  They next head to the Assembly for further consideration.