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The Associated Press April 25, 2011, 10:09AM ET

NJ employers can't discriminate against unemployed

Employers in New Jersey can no longer exclude unemployed people when they advertise job vacancies in their companies.

Legislation barring the practice was recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who had conditionally vetoed an earlier version of the measure. Violators will face fines of up to $1,000 for the first offense and $5,000 for subsequent offenses.

The bill prohibits employers from publishing job advertisements -- in print or online -- that state that unemployed individuals can't apply for the position. Proponents say the measure, which may be the first of its kind in the United States, addresses a growing national problem.

"This law is very simply the right thing to do for thousands of New Jerseyans who, through no fault of their own, found themselves without a job in recent years," said Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, D- Bridgeton, who was among the bill's primary sponsors in that chamber. "Judging a person by whether they have a job is not the way to fill job vacancies. I want to see everyone judged on their skills and ability to do the job."

The initial version of the bill was passed by the state Senate and Assembly in November and sent to Christie's desk for his consideration. But the governor conditionally vetoed it on Jan. 6, citing two main concerns.

Christie said the wording of the measure -- which said employers couldn't "suggest" that unemployed people wouldn't be hired -- was too vague, recommending that it instead require that any violation was "knowingly and purposely" committed.

Christie also said the proposed fines of $5,000 for a first offense and $10,000 for subsequent offenses were too high.

Lawmakers then reworked the bill to address the governor's concerns, and the Assembly passed the revamped measure on Feb. 17. The state senate followed suit on March 21, and Christie signed the bill March 29.

"This unacceptable trend of purposefully bypassing unemployed New Jerseyans when looking to fill job openings is inexplicable but is coming to an end," said Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III, D-Edison. "I never saw a reason for this practice that, when you think about, only helped perpetuate a high unemployment rate. It was unfair and it must stop."

Barnes, Riley and Elease Evans, D-Paterson, were the bill's primary sponsors in the Assembly. In the Senate, it was sponsored by Democrats Fred Madden of Turnersville and James Beach of Voorhees.

"Businesses that make it a point to exclude the unemployed from consideration are not only passing up on the chance to attract qualified candidates but are making the employment picture worse for the entire state," Beach said.

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