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Monday, January 17, 2011

Employer Discrimination Against The Unemployed Must End

This article, written by Mitchell Hirsch, has been cross-posted from UnemployedWorkers.org with permission.


When Michelle Chesney-Offutt was laid off from her job in 2008, just two days before Christmas and five days before her 19-year anniversary with an IT service provider, it was certainly bad enough. Then, last year, after a daily and seemingly endless job search, she received a call from a headhunter, who had obtained her online resume, and was excited about her qualifications. Eager to schedule an interview for Michelle with his client, the headhunter suddenly recanted when he noticed that she had been out for work for more than a year.

"When he realized this, he was very apologetic," she wrote to us recently, "but had to admit to me that he would not be able to present me for an interview due to the 'over 6 month unemployed' policy that his client adhered to." The headhunter, she told us, explained to her that his client had expressly prohibited him from referring workers who had been unemployed for six months or more. "He was embarrassed, and I think he felt guilty when he realized that I had been unemployed for more than a year, and therefore was automatically disqualified for the position."

"I also remember how I felt," Michelle said. "Another slap in the face."

The 53-year old from Sandwich, Illinois, had been a hard-working, successful IT help desk supervisor, contracted for nearly two decades to service a major equipment manufacturer headquartered in Peoria, through a third-party provider. Laid off, she was told, "due to the economic downturn" she had been engaged in an extensive and exhaustive job search for a year and a half when she got that call from the headhunter which suddenly lifted her hopes -- and then just as suddenly dashed them once again.

When she wrote to us, she explained that she had recently exhausted all 99 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits for which she had been eligible. She's been without health insurance since the federal COBRA subsidy was discontinued, unable to afford the premiums on the income from her unemployment insurance. And now those benefits too have ended. The process of getting her mortgage restructured, and her monthly payments reduced, in turn affected her credit. When I spoke with her this week, she was applying to SNAP for food stamps. "I applied for welfare yesterday," she added. "This is a first for me."

The issue of discrimination against unemployed workers by employers looking to hire has not yet received the attention it deserves. Stories like this one about disturbing job ads began surfacing last summer. This past fall, similar stories appeared in the press. As we reported here in November, those stories and others prompted Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and fifty-eight members of Congress to urge an inquiry by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

While there is no federal legislation expressly prohibiting employers from barring unemployed workers from consideration in hiring, the practice may rise to a threshold level of "disparate impact" in that both older workers and minority workers are represented in disproportionately large numbers among the unemployed, and especially among the long-term unemployed.

Regardless of legal liability, in instances of discrimination by employers against the unemployed -- the practice is an outrage!

The latest jobs report from the Labor Department tallied more than 14.5 million Americans officially unemployed. Of those, 6.4 million were unemployed for 27 weeks or more. The official unemployment rate has been above 9 percent for 20 consecutive months. And these continuing high levels of massive unemployment are themselves a primary drag on the ability of the economy to recover from the most severe and persistent downturn since the Great Depression.

Bringing unemployment down by putting unemployed workers back to work in good-paying, productive jobs is the most crucial component of any sustained economic recovery. Yet, too many employers, it appears, just don't care. Not only are they not creating enough jobs to bring down unemployment. But, it appears, too often the job openings they do have are considered off-limits to unemployed workers.

Just how pervasive is the practice of discriminating against the unemployed? A story by Laura Bassett in today's Huffington Post, titled 'How Employers Weed Out Unemployed Job Applicants, Others, Behind the Scenes', quotes a recruiter as saying that companies often tell them "'We don't want to see a resume from anyone who's not working.' It happens all the time."

Clearly, were it not for this discrimination, people like Michelle Chesney-Offutt could very well be working again today. But ending this discriminatory practice will likely take more people like Michelle speaking up.

"Instead of being discriminated against for being unemployed," she said, "we need an unemployed workers affirmative action policy."

5 comments:

  1. Why don't you ask Michelle why she turned down a job twice. Michelle was offered 60,000 salary to work a swing shift in Lisle. She advised the employer she didn't want to work the swing shift... And wasn't Michelle supposed to disclose to Unemployment shea was offered a job and turned it down? There is more to this story then poor me slap in the face...

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Anonymous
    Please provide a source for your claim - a search on Google for "Michelle Chesney-Offutt" and (swing OR Lisle) turns up no results.

    What's more important is that the article uses one person's experience as an example of the "over 6-month unemployed policy" a recruiter's client had in place. It's a discriminatory practice that needs to be called out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Anonymous

    Anon #1: Wow. You must feel very self-entitled to so freely and publicly commit defamation of character.

    If you're that employer, I am guessing the candidate picked up the same nasty vibe from you in person as did now reading your words. Perhaps you just immediately come across as the debasing, slandering type. Even a desperate job seeker would run-- not walk-- away from that. "Hmmm... a swing shift in a different city working for the kind of person who publicly discloses specific, private employment data about individuals on the internet... how appealing." And, a good way for a job seeker to end up unemployed again without a decent reference.

    If you are not the employer, then who are you to know what happened or what other elements of the job may have been unacceptable to either party (if your claim is even true)? How do you know the job seeker didn't report the offer to EDD, or if the offer came after the insurance ended?

    What's more, you seem to expect readers to take your single anecdote as evidence that discrimination against the unemployed does not happen.

    There is evidence employers are indeed discriminating against unemployed applicants. Every news organization in my area has reported on the recent practice of employers participate in job fairs publicizing "unemployed need not apply."

    I can attest anecdotally that in an "employers job market" a portion of employers take full advantage of having the upper-hand. A former employer got a kick out of rejecting applicants at her whim for flavor-of-the-month reasons (like making a big show about rejecting all application packets containing paper-clips one recruitment period, staples the next, off-white paper the next.) This boss wanted to cultivate the "head b~ in charge" reputation by bragging about keeping applicants waiting for their interviews and generally messing with people's heads. And this was a large employer that, inexplicably, maintains a good public reputation. I have heard from countless friends that the sentiment "I don't have to be nice... I'm the one who has the job up for grabs" sentiment is not isolated to my former employer.

    Some employers get quite bold about skirting, if not outright breaking employment laws, once a recently unemployed person is hired. A small business owner hire me when I was an unemployed job seeker. He seemed normal upon first meeting, but once hired he persistently said and did things of a sexually inappropriate nature even after I told him repeatedly to stop/he's making me uncomfortable. He tried to hold it over my head that "EDD would love to hear how I voluntarily quit the job if I decided to leave." I felt sick and demeaned but thank God I received another job offer shortly thereafter. He had the nerve to yell and scream at me over his anger that I gave him short notice. What he should have felt is grateful that I did not sue him for harrassment/creating a hostile workplace. I could just see him as your type-- posting on a public forum, accusing me of being an ingrate and liar.

    Having the power to offer someone a job does not entitle you to belittle others. Fortunes change. You could be in the applicants' shoes one day.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Anonymous

    Anonymous #1: Wow. You must feel very self-entitled to freely and publicly commit defamation of character.

    If you're that employer, I'm guessing the candidate picked up the same nasty vibe from you in person as I did reading your words. Maybe you just come across as the debasing, slandering type. If so, good for any applicant who walks away from that. Working for an arse is a surefire way to end up unemployed again, minus a good reference. "Hmmm... a swing shift in a different city working for the kind of person who publicly discloses specific, private employment data about individuals on the internet... what's not to love?!"

    If you are not the employer or the applicant, then you are not qualified to state what happened or what other elements of the job may have been unacceptable to either party that you were not privy to (if your claim is even true)? How do you know the job seeker didn't report the offer to EDD, or if the offer came after the insurance ended?

    What's more, you seem to expect readers to take your single anecdote as evidence that discrimination against the unemployed does not happen.

    There is evidence employers are indeed discriminating against unemployed applicants. Every news organization in my area has reported on the recent practice of employers participating in job fairs and publicizing "unemployed need not apply."

    I can attest anecdotally that in an "employers job market" a portion of employers take full advantage of having the upper-hand. A former employer got a kick out of rejecting applicants at her whim for flavor-of-the-month reasons (like making a big show about rejecting all application packets containing paper-clips one recruitment period, staples the next, off-white paper the next.) This boss wanted to cultivate the "head b~ in charge" reputation by bragging about keeping applicants waiting for their interviews and generally messing with people's heads. And this was a large employer that, inexplicably, maintains a good public reputation. I have heard from many acquaintances that the sentiment "I don't have to play fair... I'm the one who has the job up for grabs" sentiment is not isolated to my former employer.

    Some employers get quite bold about skirting, if not outright breaking employment laws, once a recently unemployed person is hired. A small business owner hire me when I was an unemployed job seeker. He seemed normal upon first meeting, but once hired he persistently said and did things of a sexually inappropriate nature even after I told him repeatedly to stop/he's making me uncomfortable. He tried to hold it over my head that "EDD would love to hear how I voluntarily quit the job if I decided to leave." I felt sick and demeaned but thank God I received another job offer shortly thereafter. He had the nerve to yell and scream at me over his anger that I gave him short notice. What he should have felt is grateful that I did not sue him for harrassment/creating a hostile workplace. I could just see him as your type-- posting on a public forum, accusing me of being an ingrate and liar.

    Having the power to offer someone a job does not entitle you to belittle others. Fortunes change. You could be in the applicants' shoes one day.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm another 99'er - with the same background as Michelle. I'm in Wisconsin. It's happening all over. Now I'm trying to start my own business but it's hard to explain to prospective clients why I haven't had a client either since I've been unemployed.

    ReplyDelete