jobless-bias.jpgOf all the things I’ve written about during this turbulent economic time, the one thing that bothered me the most was the revelation that some employers were refusing to even consider job seekers who were unemployed.

Companies are actually pretty open about this, and even say so in ads. One job posted on a job board by a Florida company a while back stated: “No unemployed candidates will be considered at all.”

I know, this is a huge blow for many of you who have been out of work and struggling to find a job. But the bottom line is, the jobless are not protected from such discrimination. Recruiters and hiring managers typically want people who are employed. No matter how you slice it, the natural tendency by some is to think something’s wrong with you if you’re unemployed, even if it’s not your fault, and the economy is bad, and your company laid off everyone.

This is a sad commentary on how some businesses operate, and such attitudes will do little to help bring down the nation’s unemployment rate, still hovering above 9 percent.

Help, however, may be on the way.

This morning, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws across the land, is holding a meeting to address this very issue. The meeting is being held: In order to examine the practice by employers of excluding currently unemployed persons from applicant pools, including in job announcements, the Commission will hear from invited panelists on the potential impact on job seekers.

Some states have been taking matters into their own hands. In New Jersey, legislation was introduced late last year that would make such bans on hiring the jobless illegal. But the EEOC’s move is one of the first taking up the issue on a national front.

I asked a spokeswoman at the EEOC why the agency, that usually goes after employers for discriminating on the basis of race, gender, and disability, is taking up this jobless cause?

“The goal of this Commission meeting is to examine and shed light on the emerging issue of barring unemployed job applicants from employment,” said EEOC spokeswomen Christine Nazer. “The EEOC will hear from invited stakeholder groups to gather information about this practice and consider whether it could unlawfully exclude qualified job-seekers and is discriminatory under the employment civil rights laws the commission enforces.”

An employer’s decision, she continued, “to bar unemployed applicants could create an unlawful barrier to employment and could be exacerbated by the effect of the ongoing difficult economic conditions, further deepening the nation’s unemployment crisis.”

It remains to be seen if the EEOC does have the jurisdiction to squash such a practice. But at least, for now, it’s on a lot of radar screens and may get employers thinking about how they may be missing out on some great employees.

(I’ll be sharing information from the EEOC meeting as it comes in:)

Speaking from the employer’s perspective were officials representing the Society for Human Resource Management, including Fernán Cepero, vice president human resources of the YMCA of Greater Rochester, N.Y.

“Employers, in SHRM’s experience, are focused on finding the right people for the job, regardless of whether or not they are currently employed. What’s more, exclusionary policies are poor business practices because they prevent organizations from accessing some of the best available knowledge, skills and abilities in a given labor force.”

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

“There is a disturbing and growing trend among employers and staffing firms to refuse to even consider the unemployed for available job openings, regardless of their qualifications. Excluding unemployed workers from employment opportunities is unfair to workers, bad for the economy, and potentially violates basic civil rights protections because of the disparate impact on older workers, workers of color, women and others. At a time when we should be doing whatever we can to open up job opportunities, it is profoundly disturbing to see deliberate exclusion of the jobless from work opportunities. While there is no official data on how frequently unemployed workers are denied consideration for jobs because of their employment status, the brazenness of the ads and accumulating anecdotes from jobless workers suggest the practice is fairly common.”

EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien.

“Today’s meeting gave the Commission an important opportunity to learn about the emerging practice of excluding unemployed persons from applicant pools. Throughout its 45 year history, the EEOC has identified and remedied discrimination in hiring and remains committed to ensuring job applicants are treated fairly.”

Joyce Bender, an expert in the employment of people with disabilities.

“Given my experience, I can say without a doubt that the practice of excluding persons who are currently unemployed from applicant pools is real and can have a negative impact on persons with disabilities.”

Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President for Education and Employment of the National Women’s Law Center.

The practice, she said, “may well act as a negative counterweight” to government efforts to get people back to work. Women, particularly older women and those in non-traditional occupations, are disproportionately affected by this restriction.

Dr. William Spriggs, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy.

He presented current national employment statistics showing that African-Americans and Hispanics are overrepresented among the unemployed. He also stated that excluding the unemployed would be more likely to limit opportunities for older applicants as well as persons with disabilities.

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