Senate Approves Barnes-Whelan Measure to Assist NJ's Unemployed

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

“Over the last few years, we have seen record numbers of unemployed New Jerseyans simply stop looking for work, and I believe discrimination of the unemployed is contributing to this problem. When someone continues to be shut out of employment opportunities, not because they aren’t qualified for the position, but rather because they have hit a period of bad luck, these individuals may become discouraged and stop actively-looking for work,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex. “By ensuring that employers look at the candidate’s qualifications rather than their employment status, we can help the long-term unemployed escape the Catch-22 they are caught in where they can’t get a job without a job.”  

“When employers use an applicant’s unemployment status as consideration in hiring decisions they are not just discriminating against many qualified New Jerseyans and perpetuating the individual’s cycle of unemployment, but they are also doing a disservice to themselves by potentially eliminating the most qualified person for the position,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “By outlawing this discrimination, we can ensure that an individual is evaluated on their skills, qualifications and work ethic rather than their employment status and help bring more people back into the workforce.”

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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 Northeastern University 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 23-13.  It now heads to the General Assembly for further consideration. 

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