Jobless Need Not Apply?

The practice of excluding unemployed workers from consideration for open jobs came into the spotlight as unemployment remains high.

On Feb. 16, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a hearing on the issue to gauge on its impact.

The commission's next step has not been set; the hearing was aimed only at gathering information. However, the issue has drawn impassioned opinions, and some testimony presented Feb. 16 did mention staffing firms.

"In sum, there is a disturbing and growing trend among employers -- honored by staffing firms -- to refuse to consider the unemployed for available job openings, regardless of their qualifications," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project

"This refusal is often explicitly manifested in job ads that include restrictive language specifying that only currently employed candidates will be considered; or that no unemployed candidates will be considered, regardless of the reason for unemployment; or no candidate unemployed for more than a certain period (e.g., six months) will be considered," Owens said. "Employers or staffing firms questioned about such ads typically pull the ads or delete the exclusionary language, but that does not signal that they will not apply the exclusion in the selection process."

Owens argued a policy of excluding unemployed workers hits older adults because long-term unemployment is more likely among older workers than younger ones.

Other speakers also said such a policy effects women and minorities. Some groups -- such as minorities -- can have significantly higher jobless rates than nonminorities.

Joyce Bender, CEO of Bender Consulting Services, said such policies could effect the disabled. Bender Consulting Services work to recruit people with disabilities.

However, not everyone agreed it was a problem.

Fernan Cepero, state director of the New York State Society for Human Resource Management, told the EEOC that he is unaware of widespread recruiting practice involving blanket exclusions of the unemployed.

"Our members recognize that any type of blanket exclusion raises concerns under Title VII," Cepero said. "What's more exclusionary policies are poor business practices because they prevent organizations from accessing some of the best available knowledge, skills and abilities in a given labor force."

James Urban, partners with law firm Jones Day, testified that a person making a claim of disparate impact on a protected group would have to show specific statistical evidence that policies excluding unemployed applicants did have such an impact.

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