Posted on Wed, Feb. 22, 2012
C.W. Griffin / Miami Herald Staff
Truth Fisher represents employers as a labor and employment lawyer with Gordon Rees in Miami.
Recently, a hiring director complained to me that he was aghast at the way a job candidate came dressed for an interview for a financial position. He wore jeans and a mostly unbuttoned, button-down shirt. Even worse, the candidate questioned whether the job hours would force him to sit in traffic trying to arrive on time. “It was clear that even though he had been out of work for a year, he really didn’t want the job,” the director said.
But what if the candidate turned around and sued the company for refusing to hire him because he’s a long-term jobless person?
For now, companies that turn away someone out of work for more than a year are not breaking the law. That could soon change. A movement is under way to ban jobless discrimination. It’s a thorny issue fueled by anger over recent job ads stating candidates “must be currently employed.” Of course, while some companies state that plainly in their job ads, others have been more discreet, screening out jobless workers during the initial application process.
With the U.S. unemployment rate improving, but still at 8.3 percent, the whole issue of long-term joblessness has job seekers, employers and government officials at odds. Does an employer have the right to dismiss a candidate who’s unemployed?
U.S. legislators and some state lawmakers have been so outraged over hiring practices that they have proposed legislation to prohibit or fine employers that refuse to consider out-of-work applicants for openings. In April, it became illegal in the state of New Jersey to use language in ads that discriminated against unemployed people, though lawmakers did not explicitly ban the practice of refusing to hire those who are jobless. In Florida, Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich has introduced a bill that would ban businesses from discriminating against the unemployed.
On a federal level, an outraged President Barack Obama wants to make discrimination against the long-term unemployed illegal. As part of his jobs bill, he tried to make it “an unlawful employment practice” if a business with 15 or more employees refused to hire a person because of the individual’s status as unemployed. While his jobs bill is dead, legislatively, Obama has said he will try to push it piece by piece, including this measure to get people back to work.
“It’s a big departure from what the constitution says about what rights are to be protected,” says Truth Fisher, a labor and employment attorney with Gordon Rees, which represents employers. “I think it would be considered pushing the envelope.”
As of January, 5.5 million workers or 42 percent of the jobless had been unemployed for six months or longer. For the first time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has set out to track just how long people are out of work beyond two years. Meanwhile, a new BLS study shows the length of time it took for the jobless to be successful in their search increased sharply during the recent recession and in its aftermath — with a far greater share of successful job seekers spending more than a year in their job search. Moreover, the government agency documented what most job candidates know too well — once unemployed, the likelihood of a successful job search decreased as the length of time spent searching for work increased.