Can Employers Discriminate Against People Who File for Unemployment?

If you're job-hunting while jobless, you've got a rough road ahead.
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It's a lot easier to get a job if you already have one. The problem isn't filing for unemployment insurance, it's being unemployed, period. The "Washington Post" and the "New York Times" both report that growing numbers of employers refuse to consider hiring anyone who's unemployed, particularly long-term unemployed. Even if you don't file for unemployment, this may be an obstacle to finding new work.

The Problem

The "New York Times" notes that unemployment is a red flag for many hiring managers. If you've been out of work for half a year or more, it's assumed your skills are out of date. An employer may also worry you're applying only because you're desperate. Once you're back on your feet, you'll blow the job off as soon as you find one you really like. It's common for position-vacant ads to specify that the unemployed need not apply.

The Law

As of 2013, discriminating against you when you're out of work is perfectly legal in most places. Federal law doesn't prevent it: a 2011 bill that would have outlawed unemployment discrimination failed to pass. New Jersey, Oregon and Washington DC have all passed laws banning employers from refusing to hire the unemployed, and other states are considering similar bills. New York City passed its own anti-discrimination law in March 2013.

Grounds for Action

Even with unemployment-discrimination in effect, employers still have some wiggle room. New York's law, for example, says companies can consider the reasons you lost your job. If, say, you were fired for poor performance, employers can legally reject you for being jobless. The law only applies if you're unemployed at the time you look for work. If you're working now but you have long job-free gaps in your CV, an employer might be on safe ground rejecting you.

Other Options

Even if you live where there's no law protecting the jobless, you may still be able to make a discrimination case. An employer who overlooks joblessness in white males but makes it an issue with Hispanics or women would be violating federal anti-discrimination law. The Nolo legal website notes that older women could try making a case that because they have a higher unemployment rate than average, discriminating against the unemployed hurts them disproportionately.

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