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Proposed New Jersey Law Would Penalize Employers For Discriminating Against Unemployed

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A new, unprecedented statute proposed in the New Jersey State Legislature would impose fines up to $10,000 per violation for employers who post job ads that attempt to explicitly exclude unemployed applicants.

Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-Middlesex), a primary sponsor of the bill, said the discriminatory ads are a "double-whammy" for the population of New Jersey, whose unemployment rate currently hovers at 9.5 percent.

"The massive unemployment we've seen in New Jersey since September 2008 really has not leveled off," Barnes told HuffPost. "It certainly is as low as other parts of the country, like Michigan, with high levels of people who are very well educated and have a lot of skills and experience. It hurts the people looking for job, and it hurts employers too, because the employer takes a whole pool of people out of consideration who would probably fit the bill. It's kind of a double-whammy."

Barnes said he originally imagined a statute that would consider the unemployed a protected group under state civil rights laws along with women, minorities, and the handicapped, but some of his colleagues felt the bill would be "too broad."

"A lot of people felt like we don't really need that kind of protection for all unemployed people under the Civil Rights Act, so this is another bill that sort of grew from that one," Barnes said.

The employment discrimination statute, which will be voted on tomorrow by the New Jersey Labor Committee, states that no employer or employer's agent can legally publish "in print or on the internet" an ad for a job vacancy that suggests they will only review applications from currently employed candidates. The civil penalty for an illegal job ad reported by a citizen would be $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for every subsequent offense.

Barnes said he hopes the new law will at least ameliorate some of the frustration unemployed people are already experiencing by not having jobs.

"There's a certain emotional cost there, if you're out looking for a job and you read an ad that says if you don't have a job you need not apply," Barnes said. "It's a very destructive message, and I think it's one we really don't need to send in New Jersey."