It’s getting more difficult than ever to surface top talent. Often I surface a qualified candidate who is currently not working, but our clients refuse to interview them. There are often good reasons why they are not currently working and I was wondering if it is legal to screen someone out just based on their current work status. I also don’t understand our clients’ concerns. These are people who had a good track record in their past.
Rebecca, W. Detroit, MI
There are online job listings that will state “no unemployed candidates will be considered.” Refusing to hire people on the basis of race, religion, age or disability, among other categories, is illegal. But companies that turn away jobless people as a group are generally not breaking the law, at least for now.
Ending discrimination against the unemployed would most likely require new laws. In the states many are starting to pull ahead of Washington. In 2011, New Jersey became the first state to adopt a law making it illegal to post job listings that make current employment a condition of applying or being hired. Last year, a bill making it illegal to discriminate against the unemployed was vetoed by the governor in that state. Both New York City and Madison, Wisconsin passed laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against job applicants who are unemployed.
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Some employers argue that they have a perfectly reasonable right to weed out the unemployed and that it is just good business. Hiring authorities often have these concerns, whether they express them or not:
- People who have lost jobs or have never been hired are less qualified as a group than those who are currently working.
- Job seekers who are out of the workforce for a significant period of time may also have fallen behind in skills or current technology.
- Job seekers want to earn more than their last salary when in essence their currently salary level is zero.
- After being unemployed for a long period of time, many job seekers are negative.
- Some unemployed job seekers will take a lesser job and then keep interviewing.
- Someone currently working is a proven asset with current references that can be checked.
- Employers often prefer to hire someone out of their competitors.
Employers are also more likely to consider hiring someone who is not currently working if they come through their own efforts. When they are paying us a fee, they want us to produce candidates they can’t find who are working, but would make a change for the right opportunity.
Barbara J. Bruno, CPC, CTS