Employers Are Screening Out The Long-Term Unemployed. Will We Need Legislation To Protect Them?

Even if the economy does bounce back sooner than expected, we're still going to have to deal with all the ways employers will find to discriminate against the long-term unemployed. As I've written, when I was a recruiter during the 2000 recession, this was a real roadblock and getting all these Americans back will probably require protective legislation:

From an employer's standpoint, however, there could be some legitimate reasons for not hiring the unemployed, Morse said.

"For any particular position in this dour economy, there are thousands of applicants," he said. "People are looking for a way to narrow the field. They have pressure to put the best team on the field."

On top of employers' perceptions of unemployed workers, many long-term jobless applicants lose self-confidence and hurt themselves walking into the interview already beaten, said Karl Ahlrichs, a human-relations consultant at Gregory & Appel in Indianapolis.

"There can be a lot of comfort in playing the victim," he said. "But it's quickly picked up by the employer that that might carry through if you get hired."

On the other hand, if the candidates go in and point out the positives of long-term unemployment, it can work to their advantage.

"The people that are currently working are pretty burned out. They have been over-tasked and under-motivated and scared for a long time and their reserves are probably pretty far down," Ahlrichs said. "Somebody coming off the bench will be fresher."

Sitting the bench, however, hasn't proved to be a positive for Henri Shenter. Since losing his job in construction sales 15 months ago, Shenter has been turned down for jobs nearly 50 times.

He's looking for another sales job and at 35 has 15 years experience, but as soon as they see his last date of employment, he said, it's over.

"They throw it in the trash," said Shenter, of Greenwood. "There is absolute discrimination going on."

Whether that discrimination is legal is up for debate.

"An employer that discriminates against the unemployed risks legal action," said Michael Blickman, partner in the labor and employment group at Ice Miller, adding he is unaware of any legal precedent.

The candidate could argue that filing for unemployment is a statutory right and that an employer's policy not to hire the unemployed unjustly interferes with that right.

Morse disagrees, arguing that the unemployed are not among the categories protected by discrimination laws.

"The mere fact of you being unemployed for a period of time is not a protected characteristic," he said. Categories like age, race and gender are.

Still, a company like PMG Indiana that recently ran an ad for a production assistant that read: "Must have worked in the previous 12 months," walks a fine line, Blickman said.

"An employer should ensure that it has a solid business justification if it adopts that kind of policy or practice," he said. "The employer also risks the loss of good will among its own employees, customers and the public with this kind of policy."

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