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Unemployed Need Not Apply - The Next Discrimination Frontier?

With the announcement of the Wal-Mart class action suit this week, I started thinking about our profession and how “the law” still dictates so much of what we do.  I’d hope by now, we’d be past being required by law to do or don’t do anything when selecting talent.   Are there really employers and recruiters out there that still openly discriminate (I said the “D” word out loud)?  I admit that I am an optimist, but I also know there are bad people out there that do stupid things.  Aren’t we doing the right thing?

Now with the Wal-Mart case closed and 14 million Americans still out of work, I think there will be a new game in town.  Will it be the unemployed?  In February, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission conducted hearing about the emerging practice of excluding unemployed persons from applicant pools.

Is the EEOC really considering unemployment status as a protected class?  I have mixed feelings about these both personally and professionally.  I know many people that are out of work or scared to death they will be next.  As a recruiting professional, I also know that some hiring managers still think only the losers don’t have a job.  I too, have been told by my hiring managers:  “I don’t want to look at anyone unless they have a job”.  Yes, I still believe it is easier to look for a job when you already have one, too.  Yes, I believe that employers look at your employment history and what you did last as very important.  Not having a job makes it harder for the candidate, but should we be told how to evaluate someone even more than we already have to?

Like many of you, I have had my breath taken away when I received a call from an “A Player,” telling me they were out of work  (Yes, those guys that I thought would “take over the world one day” were suddenly on the market).  I’ve also had some interesting conversations recently with senior business leaders.  I still am shock that some smart people seem to think that since there are “so many candidates on the market, it should be easy to find candidates”.  It also continues to surprises me that some believe that the unemployed candidates are somehow inferior to those employed.  We all know times have changed, right?

There are also some people that believe the US should mandate that all employers must hire the unemployed first (then look at someone that currently have a job).  The idea is that this would help the economy and get everyone back to work.  I see the point, but I don’t agree.  We should ALWAYS strive to hire the right candidate at the right time, regardless of their bla, bla, bla.  Just do the right thing.

I believe in fair labor practices.  I also realize that sometimes we need rules put in place (even laws) to force us to change.  I can swallow that, but I struggle with making “the unemployed” a protected class.  I also think it is wrong for employers to openly advertise that they will only consider the currently employed.  Shame on you!

Some states are already forcing the issue.  New Jersey recently made it illegal to discriminate against people in print ads based on their employment status.  Many other states, including California, Georgia and Texas are also addressing possible legislation to protect the unemployed.

The unemployment issue isn’t going away anytime soon.  We should all be watching this topic closely.  The EEOC could make the “unemployed” a protected class.  Once again, the HR/Recruiting profession will have to adjust, unless you already know good people are everywhere, including in the unemployment line.

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