Discrimination Protection for the Unemployed

Business, Politics, Rights

We all know that refusing to hire someone for being female, brown, old, Muslim, disabled, or gay is a one-way ticket to the wrong side of a courtroom, and any employer who does discriminate is likely to be held accountable. But what about employers who say not to bother applying for their openings if you don’t already have a job?

Recently, several companies posted openings on Monster.com and other job sites, which specifically stated that the unemployed need not apply. A brouhaha ensued, petitions were signed, and the Internet blew up, but Monster still refused to ban the offending employers. Discriminating against job candidates who are not currently working is legal in every state but New Jersey.

President Obama, as part of the American Jobs Act, is seeking to make discrimination against the unemployed illegal. If employers feel that workers currently in the field are a better risk, they should be allowed to only consider those already working. So who’s right?

Why it’s even an issue

America is in the crapper, economically speaking. Long-term joblessness is higher than it’s been in decades, and more people now fall below the poverty line than at any other time since the government started keeping track. Thanks to the meltdown of the financial sector and the crash of the housing market, record numbers of employable people have been unable to find jobs—not because they are unskilled, uneducated, or poor workers, but because of factors out of their control.

However, employers—such as Sony Ericsson, who told applicants that “no unemployed candidates would be considered at all” when hiring at their new headquarters in Atlanta—claim that long-term unemployment equals out-of-date skills and knowledge, which is a legitimate negative in a job candidate. There is also an unspoken attitude among companies that the unemployed must be that way for a reason—they weren’t the best workers to begin with or they are simply lazy. The fact is, it’s always been easier to get hired when you’re currently employed, but never before has it been a clearly-stated requirement, nor has it had such a devastating impact.

What kind of discrimination is it, really?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, black, Latino, disabled, and older workers make up a significantly larger percentage of unemployed than other groups, which gives the practice of straight up excluding the unemployed the distinct flavor of illegal discrimination. Civil rights groups point out that already-marginalized sectors of the population are being disproportionately penalized by the practice of refusing to consider candidates who aren’t currently working, and that policies preventing unemployment discrimination are needed to extend the protections those sectors have already been granted.

Why it’s different this time

President Obama’s reasoning for pushing a ban on unemployment discrimination is that it “makes absolutely no sense” to disallow unemployed applicants given the horrendous, ongoing economic recession and the fact that most of the unemployed have found themselves that way through no fault of their own. He points out that, in a stronger economy, many of those who are currently jobless would have been readily hired by the firms who are now telling them they need not apply. Shutting out workers is not only grossly unfair, but could worsen the economy and, as Time magazine points out, threaten to “condemn millions of Americans to permanent underclass status.”

Why it’s not going to pass

Regardless of human fairness and decency, or the negative impact on growing numbers of American workers, it’s unlikely that a ban on unemployment discrimination will ever make it through the current Republican Congress. Because of that, those who are unemployed and want to work might consider ways in which they can fill in those holes in their resumés, by volunteering, going back to school, or taking a lame job in the interim. Ideally, your best bet is not to lose your job to begin with—something that, unfortunately, may not be within your control.