On March 17, 2014, the state Senate Labor Committee approved a bill (S.1440) that would make it unlawful for New Jersey employers to discriminate against the unemployed.  The bill would prohibit employers from making decisions regarding hiring or terms and conditions of employment based on whether an applicant is or has been unemployed.  A similar bill is currently pending in the state Assembly.

The bill specifically provides that employers may continue to inquire into the circumstances surrounding an applicant’s separation from employment or consider an applicant’s job-related qualifications.  The bill also does not prohibit employers from giving priority to applicants who are currently employed by the company.  

If passed into law, any employer who violates the law would be subject to fines payable to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“NJDOL”).  The NJDOL may assess fines of up to $1,000 for the first offense, $5,000 for the second offense, and $10,000 for each subsequent offense.

The New Jersey legislature has been focused in recent years on increasing the protections for unemployed job applicants.  This new bill comes on the heels of a 2011 New Jersey law that prevents employers from posting job advertisements that exclude unemployed applicants.  That law was recently upheld by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.