Earlier this week, the New Jersey State Senate advanced a bill (by a vote of 23-13) aimed at protecting unemployed New Jersey job seekers.  The proposed language of bill S1440 would prevent employers from discriminating against job applicants in any employment decisions with respect to “hiring, compensation or the terms, conditions or privileges of employment because the applicant is, or has been, unemployed.”  Employers found to have violated the proposed legislation will face fines of $1,000 for a first violation, $5,000 for a second violation and $10,000 for each additional violation thereafter.

The bill’s sponsors believe that the legislation is an important safeguard for the thousands of unemployed residents of New Jersey who face an already-uphill battle in the improving (albeit slowly) job market.  It should be noted, however, that the bill does not entirely preclude employers from taking an applicant’s unemployment status into consideration, only that they cannot discriminate on that basis.  This essentially means that while employers may consider a job applicant’s unemployment status during the hiring process, that can only be one factor amongst many which leads to the ultimate decision whether or not to hire.  Accordingly, the proposed language still allows employers to, amongst other things, inquire into an applicant’s employment history and the reasons for their separation from prior places of employment.  The bill is currently pending with the State Assembly.

As we had previously reported, New Jersey already prohibits employers from publishing job postings explicitly requiring applicants to be currently employed elsewhere.  [Click here for the January 10, 2014 post.]  The pending legislation will expand upon and fill the gap in the existing state of the law by protecting against less overt forms of unemployment discrimination and bias.  Under the existing law, though employer job postings may not require applicants to be currently employed, nothing otherwise prevents them from discriminating purely on the basis of job status.