In February, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a public hearing to investigate whether employers are unfairly denying jobs to unemployed applicants. Though the issue was widely covered in the press and resulted in a law being enacted in New Jersey, the practice continues largely uninterrupted to this day, according to the National Employment Law Project.
The extent of the problem is not clear. James Urban, a partner with Jones Day who represents major employers, tells 24/7 Wall St. that his clients do not believe it’s widespread. He reiterated that they welcome resumes from the job less. NELP is in the process of gathering data and the EEOC did not respond to a request for comment.The EEOC is concerned that companies that prevent the jobless from applying will harm minority and older workers who have been disproportionately affected by the economic slowdown. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) today signed a law that made it illegal for an employer to explicitly state in a job posting that the unemployed need not apply, the first of its kind in the country.
“This is something we first started to find out about last year,” says Judy Conti, NELP’s Federal Advocacy Coordinator, in an interview, adding that the practice is “far greater than we had imagined…. It has not abated (since the EEOC hearing).”
Whether New Jersey will spur other states to action remains to be seen. The Garden State has been a stronghold of unions though their political power was undermined by Christie who has battled with them on pension and benefit issues. As the Associated Press noted, Christie was not keen on the bill at first and vetoed it in January arguing that the language was too vague and the fines were too high. Those issues were later resolved.
Advocates of the New Jersey bill argue that by making it tougher for the unemployed to get work, that the unemployment problem for the state was exacerbated. The same case could be made nationally.
Employers have a host of reasons for not hiring the unemployed. Some, particularly those in high-tech fields, worry that the jobless will let their skills atrophy. Others figure that anyone who was let go by a company is damaged goods because if they were any good they would have been retained, a somewhat unfair judgment on the 15 million or so who are without jobs.
None of these reasons is an illegal reason to deny someone employment. Advocates, though, are also not trying to mandate that the jobless be hired, only that they be given a fair shot, and that is what major employers say they intend to do.
“My clients don’t exclude the unemployed,” Urban says. “They want to hire the the best qualified applicant for the job that is opened… They are aware the EEOC has taken an interest in this issue.”
Indeed, they are reiterating their interest to their hiring managers and the staffing agencies they hire. Nonetheless, Urban says that none of clients have engaged in the practice though he believes that anyone who searched the Internet could find a handful of postings saying they won’t hire the unemployed.
“It’s not a widespread practice by sophisticated employers,” he says.