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Originally published September 26, 2011 at 8:55 PM | Page modified September 26, 2011 at 9:50 PM

Obama proposes adding 'unemployed' to protected status for job applicants

President Obama is backing legislation that would prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants because they are unemployed. Under the proposal, it would be "an unlawful employment practice" if a business refused to hire a person "because of the individual's status as unemployed."

The New York Times

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WASHINGTON — President Obama is backing legislation that would prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants because they are unemployed.

Under the proposal, it would be "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."

Unsuccessful job applicants could sue and recover damages for violations, just as when an employer discriminates on the basis of a person's race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

In a radio interview last month, Obama said such discrimination made "absolutely no sense," especially at a time when many people, through no fault of their own, had been laid off.

Obama's proposal would also prohibit employment agencies and websites from carrying advertisements for job openings that exclude people who are unemployed.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has received reports of such advertisements but does not have data to show how common they are.

Republicans and some employers said that discrimination was not common and that the proposed remedy could expose employers to a barrage of lawsuits.

Michael Eastman, executive director of labor-law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the Civil Rights Act already outlaws employment practices that have "a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin," unless an employer can show that a particular practice is "job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity."

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said the president's proposal would, in effect, establish the unemployed as a new "protected class."

Gohmert said the proposal, if passed, would encourage litigation by sending a message to millions of Americans: "If you're unemployed and you go to apply for a job, and you're not hired for that job, see a lawyer."

The Labor Department reports that 14 million people are unemployed. About 43 percent of them — 6 million people — are classified as long-term unemployed, having been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Of that group, nearly 4.5 million have been unemployed for a year or more.

The average duration of unemployment among jobless workers is 40 weeks, the longest in more than 60 years.

Charges of employment discrimination tend to increase in a sluggish economy with a high jobless rate.

In the fiscal year 2010, which ended last September, job-bias charges filed with the employment commission reached a record of nearly 100,000, up 20 percent from 2007.

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