While race, sex, disability, and age are all categories of employment discrimination recognized at law, many employees are finding that being without employment is one way employers can discriminate without repercussion.
According to recent reviews of popular job sites, such as Monster.com, CareerBuilder and Craigslist, many employers are open about only being willing to consider or strongly prefer individuals who are currently employed or who have recently been laid off.
As pointed out in a recent New York Times article, the average time of unemployment is currently nine months, so limiting candidates to those who have been recently employed ends up disqualifying many. That makes things more difficult for those already in a difficult situation.
According to legal experts there is likely no protection against unemployment discrimination. That question the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing considering the matter.
Almost no states have any protections in place for unemployed workers, though in New Jersey, a law was recently passed that prevents employers from posting job ads preventing unemployed workers from applying. Sources said New York and Michigan are currently considering a similar law, as is Congress. The nonprofit National Employment Law Project has also been considering the issue, and has been encouraging more lawmakers to back up such laws.
Unfortunately, if such laws are passed, companies would still be free to engage in unemployment discrimination. And even if Congressed passed a law preventing employers from making current employment a job requirement, discrimination would be difficult to prove.
Another approach has been to provide companies with incentives to hire unemployed workers, but the success of such efforts has been limited. Unfortunately, the job market is currently an employers' market, and many prospective employees face an uphill battle.
The long and short of it is that, given the current economy, unemployed workers may simply have to learn patience, get creative in their search, or look for a different line of work,
Source: New York Times, "The Help-Wanted Sign Comes With a Frustrating Asterisk," Catherine Rampell, 25 July 2011.