Sad but true, earlier this year the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had to hold a public hearing because of a disturbing trend: several companies, nationwide, had been excluding unemployed applicants from hiring consideration. Their ads specifically stated that they would only consider employed job candidates, using phrases like “No unemployed candidates will be considered at all” and “Client will not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed, regardless of the reason.”
A new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) shows that unemployed workers continue to be excluded from consideration for job openings. As disheartening and discriminatory as this may be, it’s not illegal — yet.
The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Henry Johnson, Jr. of Georgia. The purpose of this law? To create a level playing field for unemployed job seekers by prohibiting employers and employment agencies from screening out or excluding job applicants solely because they are unemployed.
Although employers should understand that many high quality candidates were simply victims of this particularly severe recession, some are clinging to the outdated mindset that someone who was laid off must have been a poor worker or the weakest link.
As documented in NELP’s report, employers and staffing firms continue to expressly deny job opportunities to the unemployed. An informal NELP survey of heavily-trafficked job posting websites, including CareerBuilder.com and Indeed.com, found numerous job ads conspicuously stating that job seekers “must be currently employed.”
“For the millions of jobless Americans struggling to climb out of the deepest jobs hole in many decades, nothing can be more demoralizing than the double-whammy of losing a job and then learning they will not be considered for new positions because they are not currently working, ” said Christine Owens, NELP’s executive director.
“This practice is a perverse catch-22 that requires workers to have jobs in order to get jobs, and it means highly qualified, experienced workers who want and need work can’t get past the starting gate in the application process simply because they lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” Owens continued. “As a business practice, this makes no sense. It is debilitating to workers—particularly the long-term unemployed—and it hampers economic recovery.”
“In a tough job market, where workers are competing against tens and sometimes hundreds of others for every available job opening, it is unjust for employers to discriminate against those who are unemployed,” said Representative DeLauro, a co-sponsor of the legislation introduced today. “We have seen ample evidence that unemployed individuals are increasingly falling prey to discriminatory practices reducing their opportunities to be considered for a job. The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 would prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating against unemployed job seekers, and ensure that all Americans have the same opportunities for employment.”
Representative Johnson, also a co-sponsor of the bill, agreed: “Discrimination against the unemployed—especially the long-term unemployed—in job ads and hiring practices flies in the face of what we stand for as a nation: Equal opportunity for all. The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 will help us level the playing field and get people back to work.”
Job seekers already face an exceedingly difficult job search environment, with the latest data, released this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), showing nearly five unemployed workers for every one job opening as of May. June’s unemployment rate was at 9.2 percent. The jobs and unemployment crisis is far from over.
Nearly 6.3 million workers—over 44 percent of all unemployed—have been out of work for six months or longer. The average length of unemployment reached nearly 40 weeks, or over 9 months, in June. This new legislation would ban the exclusionary practices that are exacerbating the already serious long-term unemployment problem.
“There is … strong support for legislation to ensure that unemployed job seekers receive a fair shot at employment opportunities,” NELP’s Owens said. “We are hopeful that employers and workers, as well as lawmakers in both parties will work together to erase this arbitrary barrier to employment.