Legislation to Protect Unemployed From Job Discrimination Introduced


Earlier this week, a bill to end employer discrimination against unemployed job seekers was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Brown (D-OH), and Gillibrand (D-NY).The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011, also introduced last month in the House of Representatives, would prohibit employers and recruiting firms from refusing to consider potential hires solely because they are out of work or from including language in a job posting that discourages individuals from applying based on their employment status. As the national unemployment crisis deepens, and as long-term unemployment rates stubbornly remain at record levels, this Congressional legislation mirrors similar legislative efforts underway in states that seek to ensure that such discrimination does not aid in driving millions to permanently leave the workforce.

A recent report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) shows the extent of the problem of companies, staffing firms and online job-sites pursuing hiring policies that actively exclude or discourage unemployed individuals from applying for a job opening.An informal snapshot review of major online sites conducted by NELP earlier this year found more than 150 ads explicitly excluded applicants based on their employment status.

The NELP report states that, “at a time when the competition for jobs is extraordinarily intense — with nearly five unemployed jobseekers for each new job opening — some businesses and recruitment firms are telling would-be job seekers that they can’t get a job unless they already have a job.”

These discriminatory practices are compounding the impact of the worst prolonged unemployment crisis in decades.Nationwide, the unemployment rate sits at 9.2 percent, with over 14 million people out of work.Factor in those that are underemployed and discouraged from fruitless job searching and the number jumps to 16.2 percent.Even more troubling, six million people have been unemployed for over six months, a historically high number that has been very slow to decline compared with other post-recessionary periods (see chart below).

CHART: Number of unemployed over 26 weeks

(Chart of the number of unemployed over 26 weeks after the current recession and previous recessions, from Calculated Risk.)

Some states have already moved to prevent such discriminatory hiring practices from decimating the workforce. In New Jersey, a law prohibiting employers from “knowingly and purposely” discriminating against a prospective hire based on their employment status was approved by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Christie in March. Similar legislation has recently been introduced in New York and in Michigan.

These efforts in Congress and in the states come amid a flurry of mostly bad news for the unemployed.A report released this week revealed that the number of U.S. layoffs reached a 16-month high in July.Adding to the mounting insecurity for workers, the much ballyhooed debt ceiling deal approved on Tuesday failed to include an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, which are set to expire in January of 2012.

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