Job seekers who have long suspected it's harder to get a job if you don't have one may get some help from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The agency held a meeting today looking into potential discrimination against job seekers who are unemployed at the time of their application. The concern: whether employers are using current employment status as a way to gauge the quality of an applicant’s job performance, and whether this practice has a disparate impact on people protected under civil rights laws.
“Throughout its 45 year history, the EEOC has identified and remedied discrimination in hiring and remains committed to ensuring job applicants are treated fairly,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien in a written statement. “Today’s meeting gave the commission an important opportunity to learn about the emerging practice of excluding unemployed persons from applicant pools.”
University of Colorado School of Law professor Helen Norton testified that a sampling of recent job announcements showed employers have required applicants for a wide range of jobs (including litigation associates) to be currently employed as a condition of further consideration.
She noted that measures that disproportionately exclude protected class members from job opportunities without adequate justification run afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
“This practice raises questions and concerns under current antidiscrimination law that deserve attention,” she said in written testimony.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy William Spriggs presented current national employment statistics showing that African-Americans and Hispanics are overrepresented among the unemployed. He also said that excluding the unemployed would be more likely to limit opportunities for older applicants as well as persons with disabilities.
But Jones Day partner James Urban testified that, in his experience, employers “solicit, welcome and consider all qualified candidates regardless of their employment status.”
“Under the widespread practice that I have seen employers follow, the simple fact that the applicant is or was unemployed does not operate to disqualify the applicant,” he said, according to his written testimony. “The reason the employer may decline to hire the applicant will be the underlying reason the applicant became unemployed, and typically it is job-related.”