Are the unemployed getting a fair shake?

I read a few interesting articles recently and I thought it would be a great blog topic because of how mixed my feelings were toward the subject.  The topic, discrimination against the unemployed, seems to be getting more airtime and more heated in recent months and it’s worth discussing.

Here’s the first article link:  (

The article discusses how Maryland was considering a bill that would prevent employers from limiting applications to only those who are currently employed.  This would essentially ban them from advertising “Only employed applicants will be considered” on the job posting.   While most of the article highlights this banning of ‘employment status’ as a screening criteria, putting it in the same category as religion, sex, race, age, etc, it also touches on a movement among employee advocate groups to ban employers from ‘only hiring those who are employed’.

When it comes to advertising ‘only employed applicants will be considered’, I have no problem with legislation.  While I don’t really see legislation as completely necessary, I support the notion that making a sweeping judgment like this is potentially unfair and not something that a prudent company would engage in.   Like any form of prejudice or blanket thought, it’s incredibly unwise because of how unique every person and circumstance is, whether in life or in work status.   I know plenty of stay at home mothers who, if they decided to enter the work force again, would put many employed applicants to shame from a skills and work ethic standpoint.

On the other hand, I think it’s equally imprudent to force businesses to hire based on a criteria alone – it’s the same thing in reverse.   Now, I don’t think this article goes that far, but here is an article that talks about a more aggressive move by state legislatures to prevent any type of screening that involves employment status or length of unemployment.

It’s a slippery slope because, as the article mentions “hiring is an art, not a science”.   In some cases, ruling someone out because of a long stint without employment is a sound business decision.   In certain industries, the dearth of talent can make not having work essentially a choice that you can make one way or the other.  In other instances, entire counties were seemingly laid off at the same time and unemployment rates were in the 12-15% range.

As a recruiter, I am paid to have sound judgment (if not, I don’t get paid J).  I am evaluating dozens of criteria when looking at a resume (industry, education, duration, career progression, etc) and even more when talking / interviewing.   It’s almost never just about skills.  Culture and fit are so much more important once skills are a reasonable match, that most of my job is assessing candidates psychologically, not matching words.      Therefore, I feel very strongly about retaining the right to make my own hiring decisions.

The bigger issue no one is talking about is how this legislation may actually hurt the cause of the unemployed.  Let me explain through several scenarios:

Example 1:  I am recruiting for a specialized engineer that can come into a situation and hit the ground running and I talk to someone who worked in the industry several years ago but has been unemployed for 18 months, I am going to first address that gap.   If their response is “I was relaxing and drawing unemployment” – I am going to rule that candidate out.   The narrative in the Business Week article tells me I could be breaking the law by using that as a criteria, if certain states and advocates get their way.

Example 2:    Same situation as above.  This time I pass over the resume and don’t make the phone call to learn more because I want to limit my exposure to potentially breaking the law.  No one will ever find out about the calls I don’t make.

I realize we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes laws are needed to push people out of their biases and thought processes.   History has shown this to be an effective way of generating change.  However, the ultimate success of eliminating discrimination usually comes from smart people seeing past biases and making choices based on getting to know if individuals can help their specific situation.   Those slower to change are penalized through falling behind in their industry and ultimately being less successful.

I will always look at each situation as unique and interpret accordingly.   If you are not, don’t be surprised as the rest of the industry passes you by.

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