Is bias against long-term unemployed job seekers a basis for a discrimination claim? Under President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act, it could be. The jobs bill currently sitting in Congress includes a provision whereby job applicants can sue employers for damages if there is cause to believe their application was rejected because they were unemployed.
The proposal follows several reports of employers actively screening out unemployed applicants when hiring for open positions, which has prompted state-level legislation in recent months to prohibit such activity. About six million people make up the pool of America’s long-term unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These job seekers, particularly the middle-aged, face disadvantages in the hiring process from employers’ perceptions that they lack up-to-date skills and that they are undesirable candidates at other workplaces.
President Obama’s new proposal would make hiring biases against candidates solely on the basis of their unemployment status an “unlawful employment practice” for businesses and job agencies. It would also prohibit employers or job posting websites from displaying job listings that explicitly screen out unemployed applicants. Those who decide to take businesses or job agencies to court could sue for damages up to $1,000 “for each day of the violation,” as well as “reasonable attorney’s fees.”
The New York Times notes that employment discrimination claims surge in times of high unemployment and slow economic growth. Some Republicans, as well as business owners, have come out against this provision in the American Jobs Act, saying that it only benefits trial lawyers while adding to list of costly and complex regulations that employers already face. Proponents of the policy say that it’s a necessary move to protect the long-term unemployed at a time when they already face so many disadvantages in the job market.