Unemployed are being refused the chance to apply for work at some companies


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The stories have been horrible.

More than three years since the start of the Great Recession, national unemployment is still at 9 percent with more than 40 percent of the jobless out of work for more than six months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So the want ads that included a line that unemployed applicants would not be considered have hit a nerve.

Wednesday the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission convened a public hearing to address bias against the unemployed in the hiring process. The meeting was held before the commission in Washington, D.C., to explore reports that the jobless were being excluded from consideration for open jobs. The commission invited policy experts, advocates for the unemployed and employment experts to testify.

As a result of the meeting the commission could issue policy guidance referring to employment discrimination against the already jobless.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, told the EEOC of a few advertisements on Craigslist and job recruiting websites that were explicitly precluding applicants who were currently unemployed.

"While refusal to consider the unemployed is sometimes overtly noted in ads, at NELP we also hear regularly from unemployed workers -- mostly older workers -- who, despite years in the labor force and significant directly relevant experience, are nevertheless told they will not be referred or considered for employment once recruiters or potential employers learn they are not currently working," she told the commission.

She said ads she had seen and the stories she was told by unemployed job seekers tell her that the practice of not considering unemployed people is fairly common, though there are no statistics to back that up.

James S. Urban, a partner at Jones Day in Pittsburgh who specializes in employment law, disputed Ms. Owens' assumption. While he had seen articles about the practice, he had never seen an ad specifying that the unemployed would not be considered.

"I don't know of any employer who is engaging in the practice," he said in an interview after his testimony. "My view is these are isolated incidents and are more exceptions than the rule. It doesn't make sense you would, from the get-go, exclude a pool of qualified candidates."

If employers are excluding unemployed job seekers, they could be running afoul of the law since black and Hispanic people and people those with disabilities have been the hardest hit by unemployment.

William E. Spriggs, assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor, presented statistics from the commission showing that while white people were facing 8 percent unemployment, people of Hispanic heritage were experiencing 11.9 percent unemployment, the rate in the black community was 15.7 percent, and workers with disabilities were unemployed at a rate of 13.6 percent.

Joyce Bender, CEO of Bender Consulting Services in Robinson, which works with people with disabilities to help them get jobs, said she had seen people without current work experience excluded from applicant pools.

"I can say without a doubt that the practice of excluding persons who are currently unemployed from applicant pools is real and can have a negative impact on persons with disabilities," she said in prepared remarks to the commission.

"We know from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics that nearly 80 percent of Americans with disabilities are not considered to be in the labor force [January 2011].

"Of the remaining 20 percent considered to be in the labor force, 13.6 percent of those individuals are unemployed. The majority of applicants with disabilities do not have work experience, and even if they do, it is often not current work experience.

"This includes many veterans who have sustained an injury in battle, requiring time to recuperate and resulting in a disability. As a result, their work experience is not current."

Mr. Urban, the Pittsburgh attorney, said there was already a law on the books that prohibits employment practices that discriminate against a protected class.

"If you have this sort of practice and you're open about it, you're inviting scrutiny," he said.

But even then, if the EEOC decided to go after an employer for discriminating against minorities based on not hiring the unemployed, he said, "It's going to be difficult to prove."


Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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