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Bill Would Ban Hiring Discrimination Against Unemployed

By Jill Colvin | March 22, 2012 5:05pm
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to ban employers from considering job-seekers' employment status.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to ban employers from considering job-seekers' employment status.
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City Council/William Alatriste

CITY HALL — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced new legislation Thursday barring employers from considering a person’s job status in hiring decisions.

Numerous job ads compiled by Quinn’s office from sites like Craigslist and careerbuilder.com explicitly state that unemployed job-seekers need not apply, making it all the more difficult for those on the hunt to get back to work, Quinn said.

"Some employers are openly screening out job applicants based on a person’s unemployment status," Quinn told reporters at City Hall Thursday. "We want to send a clear message that it is no longer acceptable and therefore will no longer be legal to discriminate against unemployed people in hiring in the five boroughs."

A 2011 study by the National Employment Law Project found more than 150 postings on popular job sites over a four-week period that used the exclusionary language.

One recent listing by Ajilon Professional Staffing on Careerbuilder.com seeking "superstar A/P manager," for instance, instructs that "candidate will have a steady work history, be currently employed."

Another posting by Bond Street Group recruitment consultants on the same site included minimum years of experience as well as a line stating "candidate should be currently employed on a permanent basis."

Representatives for both companies did not immediately return calls for comment about why they might include the requirement and whether they support the ban.

New York’s unemployment rate stands at 9.23 percent, with even higher rates for minority populations. The unemployment rate is 13.6 percent for blacks and 10 percent for Latinos, according to Quinn's office.

The new legislation, which will be formally introduced in the council next week, will prohibit employers from using a person’s current employment status in hiring decisions and will also bar the inclusion of language that mentions current employment in job ads.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer called the practice "blatant discrimination," which he said is especially problematic at a time when 30 percent of unemployed New Yorkers have been looking for a job for at least a year.

"Having a job should not be a requirement for getting a job," he said.

Sponsor City Councilman Vincent Gentile agreed.

"It’s a perverse Catch-22 for anybody looking for a job that's unemployed and it really only deepens our employment crisis here in New York City," he said.

Under the planned legislation, job-seekers who feel a company has engaged in discrimination will be able to file a formal complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

If the commission finds evidence of wrongdoing, it can issue a "cease and desist" order. It can also force employers to hire workers, award back pay and pay damages, with penalties soaring up to $250,000 if the discrimination is deemed a "willful, wanton or malicious."

While Quinn said the effort might not stop employers from shutting the unemployed out completely, it "send[s] a message that this behavior is no longer acceptable."

The proposal was among those announced in Quinn's State of the City speech. Similar legislation is pending in Albany.