As the economy continues to slump the unemployment rate is staying high, but it seems that employers may be partly to blame. The Washington DC Employment Law Update reported in February that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held a public hearing “to address the alleged ‘emerging practice’ of excluding currently unemployed job-seekers from applicant pools” after members of Congress urged the EEOC to address the issue. The hearing, broken into three panels, was discuss the latest unemployment data from the Department of Labor, the use of unemployment status screening, and how this alleged screening practice impacted the unemployed.
In August, the Huffington Post reported that many online job postings often state that applicants must be employed as a condition for consideration. “Many of the businesses insist they don’t want to screen out the unemployed and blame the discriminatory language on the middlemen directly responsible for placing the ads.” The National Employment Law Project said in a report that “this perverse catch-22 is is deepening our unemployment crises by arbitrarily foreclosing job opportunities to many who are otherwise qualified for them.”
A spokesperson for a Florida-based staffing agency defended the ads saying, “I don’t see how ‘current or very recent tenure’ is discriminatory.” Staffing agency Express Employment Professionals said that they don’t wish to discourage the unemployed, but simply want to draw in and recruit those that are serious about the job.
The practice of choosing to hire only currently employed employees is presently legal. Employment, unlike race or gender, is not a protected status in most of the country, since that status has the ability to change. In April, however, the state of New Jersey made it illegal to “use language in ads that discriminated against unemployed people, though lawmakers did not explicitly ban the practice of refusing to hire those who are jobless.”