The Last “Legal?” Job Discrimination

Hello Boomers, 

Today we are going to take a bit of a detour from our latest focus of highlighting the ReInvention Stories of Baby Boomers.  However, in my humble opinion, our topic today is a big part of the reason that so many Boomers and others remain unemployed even as the “recovery” has been underway for a year.

It is the nasty little phenomenon of “The Unemployed Need Not Apply” that some viewed as more of an urban myth than a proven reality.  There have been many articles and even some TV programs that have highlighted this nasty tactic but they often failed to name names.  When they did, the offenders claimed that it was a “mistake” and quickly removed the offending job listings.  Yet the practice persists.

On July 13, 2011, Business Insider  published a list of 72 discriminatory job announcements.  Each of them requires that you be currently employed to even be considered.   These announcements come from recruiters and direct employers and the advertised jobs are located all across the U.S. and abroad.  

The skill levels required for these positions range from a little to a lot and the positions advertised run the gamut from part-time freight handler to orthopedic surgeon  – with everything in between. 

We understand the need to hire a practicing surgeon rather than one whose skills have gone rusty but we don’t understand the need to hire a receptionist who is currently answering phones rather than one who answered phones a month ago. 

How many heating, ventilating, and air conditioning technicians must have lost their jobs due to the poor housing market?  Yet they cannot qualify for what might be the only such job in their area if they are not currently employed.  Have the steps and knowledge required to install a new boiler or a furnace or an air conditioner really changed so drastically during the past several years when few new buildings of any kind have been built and maintenance of mechanical systems has been pushed off whenever possible due to the sour economy? 

Sales representatives were the single largest group to be targeted in these listings, with jobs from used car sales to pharmaceutical device sales representatives included in the “must currently be employed” category.  Sales managers were also hit hard.  Evidently one loses their management skills when unemployed. 

From project managers to emergency service dispatchers, from accountants to paralegals, from litigation attorneys to sign installers, from scientists to teachers, American business leaders seem to believe that your brains stop working and your skills atrophy when unemployment strikes – even if that period of unemployment has been mercifully short. 

It also doesn’t seem to matter if you have spent your unemployment staying current in your field or learning new skills or technologies.  If you don’t currently have a job these shortsighted employers and recruiters won’t even take a look at your resume. 

The longer they persist with this bias, the more of a self-fulfilling prophecy it becomes.  Today, over 40% of all unemployed Americans have been out of work for over a year! 

We can certainly understand an employer’s reluctance to hire the unemployed during times of prosperity.  During such times, losing one’s job may mean that skills were poor or goals weren’t met, that personalities were difficult or attendance was lacking.  But when thousands of people are sent packing through no fault of their own, when hundreds of thousands, then millions cannot find a job due to this economic crisis, it seems patently unfair to deem the unemployed as unqualified for the few jobs that are available simply because they are unemployed. 

How can an employer hope to get the best employee when they disqualify a whole group, literally millions of people, without ever looking at their skills, their backgrounds, their education, or their experiences? 

Unfortunately, the EEOC isn’t yet sure if this form of discrimination is illegal.  Perhaps that is why it has become so much more overt and is no longer a hard-to-prove urban legend passed along by anecdotes and stories. 

The National Employment Law Project is looking into this issue and hopes to create a federal law to stop this practice.  We hope they are successful but even if they are, we worry that the practice will simply “go underground”.  We hope that they attach some teeth to the proposed law,   perhaps by at least asking employers how many of their new hires were previously unemployed.  

It is often difficult to discern which employers adhere to this philosophy as they often hide behind recruiters who continue to support and spread this ugly practice.  If you do discover an employer who is excluding the millions of well qualified yet still unemployed workers, please hold them accountable. 

Tell them you won’t be buying their products as long as they continue practicing this cruel bias against the unemployed.  Money talks and when dollars walk, perhaps we will see a change.  

We also hope that if you already are a hiring business owner, or when you start your own business and need to hire employees  that you will welcome unemployed applicants, especially older workers who are really having a tough time of it.   I know it’s a cliché but …be the change you want to see. 

Here is the link to the Business Insider article which lists the companies (when they were hiring directly) and the recruiters who were either accepting work from such discriminatory employers or taking it upon themselves to eliminate the unemployed from consideration. 

Here is a link to the proposed law that will attempt to put an end to this practice.  Call your elected representatives to voice your support.


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