THE ISSUE: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill last year that prohibits businesses from excluding unemployed individuals from job ads in print or online. Employers face a penalty of $1,000 for the first offense, $5,000 for the second and $10,000 for subsequent offenses. Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, has introduced a similar bill in California (AB 1450).
Should state outlaw requirements that job applicants be employed?
Pia Lopez: Yes
Want to be a kitchen manager in San Francisco for Cypress Hospitality Group? A professor in Fresno for University of Phoenix? Financial adviser in San Francisco for April Durel? Scientist in Menlo Park for Assay Systems? Emergency services dispatcher for the city of Redondo Beach?
Don't bother to apply unless you have current or very recent employment.
Those were among a small sample of job ads that the National Employment Law Project found in a four-week period in March-April last year.
No jobless workers need apply. Blatant exclusion, right in the job posting.
But news accounts also indicate that this goes far beyond ads. Recruiters and employers simply don't consider those who are jobless. Rich Thompson, a vice president at Adecco Group North America, the world's largest staffing firm, told CNNMoney.com last June, "I don't have hard numbers, but three out of the last four conversations I've had about openings, this requirement was brought up."
This comes at a time when we have had more than four unemployed people for every job opening, for nearly three years, the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. As the Economic Policy Institute puts it, "There are no jobs for more than three out of four unemployed workers, no matter what job seekers do." In the West, it is even worse, with five or more unemployed workers for every job opening.
These folks should not face blanket exclusion from applying for jobs.
The presumption that the jobless must be unwilling to work or don't have basic work habits is rank prejudice and discrimination.
Allen's bill, like the New Jersey law, is limited. It does not make the unemployed a "protected class" under anti-discrimination laws. It does not allow lawsuits.
Employers, of course, remain free to select job candidates who have the most relevant work experience and skills. Assembly Bill 1450 simply prohibits employers and employment agencies from blanket exclusion of unemployed workers from the job pool.
As Allen says, "To say that otherwise qualified individuals cannot even apply for a position solely because they are unemployed, particularly in light of the fact that so many of our unemployed workers have been out of work for extended periods of time, is truly unconscionable."
Does AB 1450 solve the problem of the sheer lack of jobs for millions of people? No. But at least the bill would help to remove arbitrary barriers that deny employment opportunities to qualified individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own.
Pia Lopez is an editorial writer at The Bee.
Ben Boychuk: No
Want to discourage skittish employers from hiring people and expanding in one of the worst business climates in the country? No problem! Just pass yet another law to sic the state labor commissioner on them.
See, it isn't enough simply to ban employers from using a particular word or phrase in their help-wanted ads. Obviously, a business could carry out the invidious practice sub rosa. Allen's bill would empower the state and local prosecutors to investigate whether a business discriminates against the unemployed. And investigations take time and cost money.
It's of little comfort that Allen's bill would bar lawsuits, as Pia notes.
Who cares about small claims shakedowns when an officious bureaucrat can rummage through your files and slap you with fines starting at $1,000 and eventually reaching $10,000 per violation?
Nor is it assuring that Allen's legislation would not make the unemployed a "protected class." Maybe not explicitly. But it isn't hard to divine the legislator's intent when he says unemployment discrimination is "the same as excluding a particular religion or minority group."
Let's dispense with this demagogic foolishness, please.
Discrimination based on race or sex is illegal because it's unreasonable and wrong. Unemployment discrimination, while frustrating, isn't obviously unreasonable.
The color of one's skin tells us nothing about one's skill as an accountant, a lawyer, or a machinist.
A long gap on one's résumé, however, may tell us quite a bit.
Skills atrophy. Work habits slacken. Idled workers are less likely to be up-to-date on industry standards.
I'm not going to deny this is an unusually brutal economy for people who've been out of work for six months, a year, or longer. I lost a great job in May 2008 exactly one month before the birth of my daughter and didn't land steady paying work again until early 2009.
There are few experiences more dispiriting than to spend countless hours scrolling through job websites, and countless more sending résumés to would-be employers, only to never receive so much as an acknowledgment of receipt. I think I stopped counting at 50.
But I'm not sure this law would have helped. Our do-gooder Legislature is almost certain to pass AB 1450, but don't expect this "discrimination" to end or for unemployment to fall any faster. Instead, employers will find ways to skirt the law or simply make do with the workers they've got until the economy picks up again. Count on it.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. (www.city-journal.org/california)