Governor Christie Vetoes New Jersey Unemployment Discrimination Law

On June 30, the New Jersey legislature approved, by a large majority, a bill that would penalize employers for discriminating against the currently unemployed in hiring practices:

If the bill becomes law, violations of the measure would implicate existing law that provides civil penalties of $1,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the second violation and $10,000 for each additional violation.

Since the economic crisis of 2007-2008, discrimination against the unemployed has become a major topic in labor circles. Studies have found that unemployed individuals are statistically less likely to be hired at a new positon than their employed counterparts, creating a vicious cycle that results in the tragic phenomenon of “long term unemployment.” As the Washington Post put it, “[t]he long-term unemployed have a hard time getting companies to even look at their job applications, let alone hire them.” Some human resources managers have actually been refreshingly blunt about their own office’s unemployment discrimination practices, admitting that they wonder why “someone else has not picked [the unemployed person].” It cannot be emphasized enough that the consequences of such thinking are, in human terms, devastating: one can be let go from their job for no fault of their own, and have this held against them indefinitely.

Thankfully, New York City has passed its own law declaring unemployment discrimination illegal, and it is wider in scope than even the New Jersey law under consideration would be. In essence, the NYC Human Rights Law now treats employment status (read: unemployment status) as it does race, gender, or other protected classes, and if a job-seeker is turned down because of their employment status, they have a right to sue that employer.

In 2011, New Jersey banned want-ads that explicitly discriminate against the jobless, a law that withstood a First Amendment, free speech challenge. The new law would go much further, though not as far as NYC’s, by actually fining employers for engaging in unemployment discrimination – although plaintiffs who are victimized by the practice would not be able to sue.

As noted above, the NJ bill cleared its final legislative hurdle way back on June 30.  However, in late August, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill, which is now awaiting an override of Governor Christie’s veto.

If you’re a New York City resident who believes you were not hired for a job solely because of your employment status, or believe you were a victim of unemployment discrimination, contact our offices. Serrins Fisher can help you pursue your rightful claim under the NYC Human Rights Law.

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