Do You Have To Put Up With Unemployment Discrimination?
By Vivian Giang
The longer you're unemployed, the less valuable you may seem to a hiring manager.
In her post on AARP.org, Diane Cadrain, a Connecticut-based attorney, writes about how some companies are going as far as placing employment ads that specifically screen applicants based on current employment status. The tricky thing is, if you know you didn't get a job because you've been out of work for an extended period of time, is there anything you can do about this?
We spoke to Cadrain to find out more:
1. What should workers do if they've been discriminated against due to their unemployment status?
According to George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project, the difficulty with providing guidance on what steps to take when a job applicant believes that he or she has been subject to job discrimination based on unemployment status is that there are still no explicit statutory protections against the practice of excluding the long-term unemployed from consideration as job applicants, except in New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Oregon.
But, this is what Wentworth recommends that the applicant should do:
- Apply for the job, even in the face of a policy that appears to screen you out based on your unemployed status. Make it clear in the cover letter that you're qualified for the position and request consideration and an opportunity to explain your unemployment and what you have done to keep your skills fresh.
- If you've been screened out of the application pool, document those employer actions that appear to discriminate against job applicants because they are unemployed, such as language in the job posting. Direct a letter of complaint to the company's CEO or Human Resources Director. While the practice may not be illegal, many employers are beginning to change their policies voluntarily as the issue of discrimination based on unemployment begins to receive negative media attention.
- If the employer's discriminatory policy is described in an online job posting, file a complaint with the employment website that posted the ad.
- Consider filing a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Support state legislation to expressly prohibit the practice of discriminating against workers based on their unemployed status in the hiring process.
2. What does the law say?
Discrimination based on unemployed status is currently illegal only in New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia. New Jersey and Oregon ban only ads based on unemployment status, not the underlying practice of excluding unemployed applicants. The District of Columbia law bars both.
Other states in which legislators are considering similar measures include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.
3. What if the interviewer said 'Why have you been unemployed for so long?' What's the best way to answer this?
Most employers should be familiar with the state of the economy and the high numbers of unemployed people. Applicants should make it clear that they have been diligently seeking work for which they are qualified and should be prepared to describe their efforts in maintaining their skills, including online courses and seminars.
Tell your interviewer that you're qualified for the position. If you've been volunteering - especially within the same industry you're applying for - this will show the employer that you haven't been out of the game, even if you weren't actually employed.
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