EEOC Probes Jobless Discrimination Claims

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces U.S. laws prohibiting employment discrimination, is investigating recent claims of employers discriminating against the jobless. The commission held a public meeting last week in which it heard testimony from various employment advocacy groups who say some employers are posting want ads with a disclaimer to unemployed applicants.

The message “Unemployed Need Not Apply” is a growing trend in the labor market amongst employers looking to fill their payrolls with “experienced” workers. The assumption, said Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) Christine Owens when testifying before the EEOC, is that unemployed workers’ skills are outdated.

She warns the practice could worsen an already weak job market. “At a moment when we all should be doing whatever we can to open up job opportunities to the unemployed, it is profoundly disturbing that the trend of deliberately excluding the jobless from work opportunities is on the rise,” said Owens. “Bans on considering unemployed workers for jobs are often linked to the duration of individuals’ joblessness; candidates unemployed six months are longer are out of luck.”

While there is no law against refusing to hire someone based on their current employment status, there are laws against refusing to hire someone based on their sex, race, national origin, religion, age and disability. And since African-Americans and older workers – especially older women – and disabled workers have been hit particularly hard by this recession, discriminating against unemployed people in those groups may violate the law, says Owens.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than six million Americans have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks. And according to NELP, there are currently 4.7 laid-off workers for every job opening.