Are Laws Needed to Stop Discriminating against the Unemployed? | DCR Workforce Blog

Are Laws Needed to Stop Discriminating against the Unemployed?

DescriminationMy neighbor, a trainer, lost her job in October 2013. She has floated her CV but she is also aggressively pursuing freelance opportunities to coach the executives of various organizations and getting a lot of work. She has also changed houses, taking a larger house at a higher rent, to start some coaching classes from home. I would say she is entrepreneurial, motivated and has a never-say-die attitude. I have seen other friends who faced bleak times with fresh bouts of energy and unflagging effort. If their efforts failed to pay off, they cannot be blamed for accepting unemployment benefits to pay the bills. So, when I read about employers who discriminate against persons who were unemployed for longer than 6 months – in an economy where 1 out of 3 unemployed persons has been searching for a job for more than 6 months – my reaction is always one of surprise, if not disbelief!

We cringe when asked to remember times in our history when signs indicating “Irish need not apply” or “blacks need not apply” were commonplace.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of ’64 created protected classes and put a stop to such discrimination.  But the unemployed are not a “protected class”. Employers can actually get way with a clause in their job advertisement which specifies that only employed persons need apply (or that the unemployed persons need not apply). Discrimination against the unemployed in hiring is not considered unlawful in most states. Only New York, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington DC have passed legislation to protect job aspirants with gaps in their resumes. Sixteen states have considered similar legislation and rejected it! So, the only fear an employer has when prohibiting ‘currently unemployed people’ from applying, is the possibility that the applicant may be protected under the Civil Rights Act. Of course, not many job aspirants can even afford to litigate alone against such discrimination

For every company that blatantly states that it is not willing to consider unemployed applicants, there are dozens who quietly discard resumes from those who are not currently working.  When faced with this prejudice, people who are motivated to find and keep work are being forced to misrepresent facts and lie about being employed elsewhere or remain unemployed. .  In many situations, economic conditions resulted in the most experienced (and highly compensated) workers being the first to be terminated.  These individuals face the greatest employment challenges as companies are now ramping up by replacing these individuals with less experienced workers at lower salaries.  In many cases, these unemployed workers had previously demonstrated their reliability through decades-long careers with no breaks in service. Yet now, their reliability and motivation is called into question.

With the cessation of benefits to the long-term unemployed, such discriminatory policies could pose a dire threat to the economy. According to a release by the White House, 1.3 million people lost access to jobless benefits at the end of 2013; with 3.6 million more set to lose them by the end of 2014. Proponents of the termination of extended benefits argued that they were providing an incentive for people to “drop out of the job market”.  The facts don’t support the notion that a majority of the long-term unemployed have stopped looking.  For most, it is financially not an option.  However, if for the sake of argument we accept this notion, will these individuals find suitable employment that matches their skill sets and levels of experience, or will they face employers who discriminate against a gap in their resumes?

Against this background, several staffing firms have adopted a set of best practices to remove barriers again hiring long term unemployed. Temporary work offers the long term unemployed an opportunity to re-enter the job market, and allows them to ‘test the waters’ when working at a job which requires them to undergo training or gain new skills to deliver to expectations. They may also prove themselves and get absorbed into a permanent position. With the staffing firm’s assistance, individuals can receive the training and ‘on the job’ experience needed to undertake new and challenging jobs, creating a win-win for companies seeking those skills and workers looking for jobs.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.