The unemployed need not apply.
Automatic rejection of job applicants just because they are unemployed has been one harsh upshot of the tight job market in the wake of the Great Recession, say advocates for the jobless. The practice threatens to make unemployment self-perpetuating for millions still struggling to find work.
In response, a number of states have passed or are considering laws that prohibit employers from making current employment a requirement for job applicants. Business groups have fought hard against the laws as an unnecessary intrusion on employer hiring rights.
New Jersey and Oregon enacted laws since 2011 prohibiting employers from setting current employment as a requirement in job applications. Laws are pending in Florida, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Nevada, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Major cities are also getting involved.
“It has been rampant through the recovery,” said Mitchell Hirsch, an advocate for the unemployed with the National Employment Law Project.
Hirsch said he is aware of only one legal test case to this point. The state of New Jersey, which enacted the nation’s first such anti-discrimination statute in 2011, sought a $1,000 fine against technology company Crestak Inc.
The company was accused of discrimination by inclusion of “must be employed” in job applications. Crestak has appealed.
Chicago and the District of Columbia also prohibit must-be-employed provisions in job applications. Employers are allowed to ask about job history but cannot exclude candidates based only on unemployment.
This summer, New York City took the rules a step further. The city added anti-discrimination protections based on unemployment to age, gender, race, sexual orientation, disabilities and citizenship status. While other laws set fines, the New York City ordinance adds the possibility of civil lawsuits.
President Obama proposed federal anti-discrimination legislation in 2011 but failed to win congressional approval.
NCSL researcher Jeanne Mejeur said it is difficult to gauge whether other states will join the trend. But she said the laws are not surprising given the slow pace of job growth after the recession. “Legislators were looking for ways to help long-term unemployed workers get back into the job market.”