Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

States With Pro-Employee Laws: Discrimination Against Unemployed

(Or, States That Don't Suck For Employees)

I have the sad duty of informing my clients pretty much daily just how bad Florida law is for employees. It's pretty depressing how few legal protections my home states offers employees. So I thought I'd periodically celebrate some states that actually have laws protecting employees. Today, I'm celebrating the states that have enacted laws protecting the unemployed from discrimination.

During the not-so-Great Recession, some help-wanted ads started popping up saying only those already employed need apply. While it had always been illegal to discriminate against the unemployed, going this blatant backfired on employers. Public and media outrage ensued and New Jersey became the first state to make it illegal to discriminate against the unemployed. 

New Jersey's law actually only makes it illegal for employers  to advertise that they'll only hired the employed, but doesn't make it illegal to refuse to hire the unemployed, and prospective employees can't sue for violations. Still, it's an improvement. At least the long-term unemployed don't have to see their plight in print when looking through the classifieds.

Oregon, DC and Chicago soon followed with similar legislation that prohibited advertising but not actual refusal to hire the unemployed. A number of states tried and failed to pass legislation prohibiting unemployment discrimination.

Along came New York, a city that never sleeps on worker rights, and passed a law not only prohibiting unemployment discrimination but allowing aggrieved applicants to file a complaint with the city's Commission on Human Rights or sue, including bringing a class action. Madison, WI has also passed a similar ordinance.

Not to be outdone, New Jersey legislators passed another bill, this one actually prohibiting using the fact of being unemployed in employment decisions, but Gov. Christie vetoed it. Federal legislation proposed to help protect the unemployed against discrimination failed.

Why should all taxpayers push to make unemployment discrimination illegal? Because we have a huge problem with long-term unemployment, and it is getting worse. If you've been unemployed 6 months or more, your chances of getting a job drop drastically. Who bears the brunt of this? Taxpayers. As these folks lose their homes, file for bankruptcy, and apply for public assistance, we're paying for this employer nonsense. 

Can anyone show me a single data point saying being unemployed has anything at all with a person's ability to do a job? How is this the unemployed person's fault? Why should we, as taxpayers, have to pay for hiring managers' wild hair idea carried over from their middle school days that a person is only worthwhile if someone else has them?

Kudos to the states and cities that have passed laws to help their citizens with this employer-created problem. Will my home state and other states that allow employers to trash their economies with this nonsense wake up?


  1. On another subject: I was in Madison WI, and saw this ad
    Really? Maybe I've been reading so many employment law blogs, I've gotten
    a bit too sensitive. Or not.

  2. Why would companies discriminate against the unemployed? I know, stupid question. But while I understand it can cut out the number of unreliable applicants, it's still too broad of a stereotype. There are plenty of hardworking individuals who happen to be out of a job. It seems like a useless discrimination.

    Jenn | http://www.lostjobs.ca


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.