If you have bad credit, it can't be held against you at work or when you're applying for a job in New Jersey under a  bill that was approved in the state Senate Labor Committee.

Senator Sandra Cunningham says the measure would protect people who have run up debt because their out of work and can't pay their bills on time.  "I do not believe that when there is so much unemployment in New Jersey that we should treat people whose credit rating is not where they want it to be like criminals."

The bill would not allow employers to use your credit history as a basis for hiring or firing, with some exemptions. They include: a managerial position that involves setting the financial direction or control of the business; a position that involves access to customers', employers' or employees' personal belongings, financial assets or financial information other than that which is customarily provided in a retail transaction; a position that provides an expense account for travel or involves a fiduciary responsibility to the employer. It would also exempt from the bill any current or prospective employee being evaluated for a position in law enforcement or as security personnel.

Michael Egenton with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce testified that they opposed the bill, saying it would add to the cost of doing business in the state with new mandates.

"The legislation would impose new restrictions and regulations on the employer community and could lead to potential lawsuits."

"The economic downturn has resulted in many individuals and families facing financial challenges. Residents have been unable to find work, many for months on end, and have had to choose between paying credit card bills and feeding their families," said Senator Turner (D-Mercer). "Denying these individuals employment because of their financial position only exacerbates the unemployment and credit problems that exist and leaves individuals who need a job the most unable to obtain one."

Any employer found in violation of the provisions of this bill could face civil penalties of up to $2,000 for the first violation, and $5,000 for each subsequent violation.  The Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development would be responsible for the collection of these fines.

New Jersey would become one of only a few states that would put an end to employer credit checks.

The bill cleared the committee by a vote of 4-1. The measure now heads to the full Senate for a vote.