Discrimination against the unemployed is rampant. Some job ads explicitly require applicants to be "currently employed," and Americans who have been out of work for a year or longer report employers rejecting them as soon as that tidbit comes out.
And this is legal in virtually every state. A congressional bill introduced last summer, which would have criminalized it, is languishing. Earlier this year, California was poised to become the first state in the country to ban such discrimination. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, remarking that it would likely lead to "unnecessary confusion."
As of today, only Washington D.C. has such a law on the books, though Oregon and New Jersey currently ban discriminatory language in job listings.
More: Do You Have To Put Up With Unemployment Discrimination?
So why are employers averse to hiring the jobless? AOL Jobs called about a half dozen employers who took out ads that explicitly stated current employment was required, but only one would agree to an interview: Alex Comana, who runs the La Mesa, Calif.-based property management and real estate firm, The Comana Company. He posted a job ad for an apartment complex manager earlier this year specifying that only the currently employed need apply.
In an interview with AOL Jobs, he was refreshingly candid. He said his primary reason for only considering employed applicants was that he was trying to fill an unusual job -- one that came with free rent, instead of pay. As a result, he said, he wanted somebody who is currently employed so that the worker would "be able to put food on the table."
To be sure, there are plenty of jobless workers who would welcome a gig that came with free housing; in fact he says he received applications from jobless workers -- which he wouldn't consider. In an interview, he freely acknowledged that there were other reasons why he -- and many other employers -- preferred not to hire the unemployed.
Here are the top reasons he gave:
1. People who have a job are proven to be valuable.
"If someone is still currently employed, it tells me they're skilled enough, valuable enough to still be employed, to still have a job," explains Comana. (He is not alone in this thinking. Studies have found that hiring managers -- when presented with identical resumes, except that one candidate was employed and the other not -- rate the employed applicant as more competent.)
"You have to definitely investigate their situation," Comana says about unemployed applicants, to find out whether they lost their job because of downsizing or poor performance. "There could be a very well qualified individual who was just downsized out of the job. And a person who was downsized is more valuable than someone who lost their job because of poor performance."
3. The employed will adjust quicker to a new job.
"Getting them into the daily routine," Comana says, is another potential issue in hiring the unemployed. "It would be less burdensome to try to acclimate the [already-employed] employee into their required work environment," he says, because they're used to the 9-to-5 grind. As an example, he says many of the unemployed applicants for the job he posted didn't follow the directions, like writing their cover letter in both English and Spanish.
"When you're out of the job market I think you kind of forget how to follow directions, or just don't really pay attention to what's being requested," he says. "You become a little rusty."
"Employers are looking to improve their bottom line," says Comana, and they can do that "by bringing someone on board you don't have to spend time on training, or time on acclimating them. It comes down to how much does this corporation make. [Employers] need to limit their expenses."
5. I have to watch the bottom line.
Comana recognizes that passing over candidates because of their employment status puts the jobless in a catch-22 -- they can't get a job because they don't have one. "I can see the other side of the coin," he says. "How can this person who, again, could be a talented individual, how can they be hired at this company if one of the requirements is that they are currently employed? They can't."
But on the other side, he says, employers need to hire individuals they can be sure will help the company grow. "An employer is looking at the bottom line and wondering if this person is going to work hard, because they've been out of the market for so long," he explains. "It's tough on both ends."
Have you been turned down for a job because you're unemployed, or have you turned down job applicants because they were jobless? Share your experiences in the comments section.
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