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Employers Rejecting Unemployed Job Applicants,            16/Feb/2011

Employers are screening out job applicants who are unemployed, a practice that may lead to discrimination against women and minorities, worker advocates told a U.S. agency today.

Some companies don’t specifically have a policy to exclude the unemployed and may informally use employment status in hiring, the advocates told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal anti-discrimination laws.

“This is a practice that, regardless of its magnitude, adds to the difficulty that millions of unemployed workers are facing today in navigating the toughest job market any of us has ever experienced,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, which promotes jobs for lower-wage workers. She said no information exists showing the extent of the practice.

The commission is examining the practice after media reports showed some employers were keeping applicants without jobs from being considered, raising concern that minorities may be targeted. Unemployment in January among blacks was 15.7 percent and 11.9 percent for Hispanics, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Among whites, the rate was 8 percent.

The Society for Human Resource Management, which represents more than 250,000 personnel managers, is “unaware of widespread recruiting practices” that exclude the jobless, said Fernan R. Cepero, representing the Alexandria, Virginia-based group.

Applicants who have been out of work may struggle because their skills are more obsolete than those who are employed, said Cepero, vice president for human resources at the YMCA of Greater Rochester in New York.

Nine For Two

U.S. employers review nine applicants for every two available jobs, William E. Spriggs, assistant secretary of Labor for policy, said at the hearing. Weeding out the unemployed has a disparate effect on Latinos and blacks, he said.

“The chances of considering an ethnic minority are decreased by one third when one limits unemployed workers,” Spriggs said.

Owens said a telephone company in Atlanta, which she didn’t identify, ran an help-wanted ad saying only the employed should apply. Jobless applicants were also turned down by a temporary staffing firm and a Texas recruiter because they were unemployed, she said.

“What’s startling are the lengths to which companies are going to communicate this such as including the phrase ‘unemployed candidates will not be considered’ right in the posting,” she said.

‘What’s The Rationale?’

Commissioners said they are concerned about the practice and may review whether the agency should act.

“The question in my mind is why would an employer want to do this? What’s the rationale? What’s the driver for this?” said Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru, a member since 2003 nominated by Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate.

If the agency determines that keeping the unemployed out of the applicant pool discriminates against minorities, it may trigger lawsuits against companies, said Paul Evans, a Philadelphia employment lawyer who represents companies with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP., before the hearing. Job candidates who think they’ve been discriminated against would be cleared to file a complaint with the agency, he said.