HR

It Takes Courage To Say ‘No’. Taking A Stand Against Unemployment Discrimination.

Last Sunday I was watching 60 Minutes. In the second half of the show they had a story, “Trapped in Unemployment,” that featured an innovative program developed by Joe Carbone, who works at the state unemployment office in southwest Connecticut. All of the individuals they profiled were long-term unemployed who had already exhausted their unemployment insurance (which happens after 99 weeks of unemployment). They were former white-collar workers who were taking whatever jobs they could: landscaping, temping, etc. You can watch the video here or read the story here.

The program, Platform to Employment, helps the long-term unemployed adapt to an evolving job market.  They train people on topics like social media, digital footprint, and resume writing. They don’t promise their enrollees jobs, but they do work with employers who offer internships that in many cases do lead to jobs. Platform to Employment’s track record is pretty solid: out of 100 enrollees, roughly 70 of them found jobs in the first year. Joe is doing noble work and I applaud anyone who is focused on helping others develop the skills necessary to be successful in today’s job market.

What really stunned me about this story was the portion where they focused on a growing problem of unemployment discrimination. They showed a variety of job listings that included language like “must be currently employed.” Google  “unemployment discrimination” and you’ll find dozens of stories and examples from USA TodayHuffington PostFox News, etc. It’s not an isolated phenomenon and it is creating biases and false generalizations that are impacting hiring. There are an infinite number of circumstances that lead to unemployment. To assume unemployed prospects are unskilled, lazy, or unmotivated because they’re out of work is not just immoral and unethical – it’s prejudicial.

The half dozen examples of job descriptions with this language that I saw appeared to come mostly from Craigslist. While I’m sure some of these postings came from organizations without HR or recruiters leading searches, my guess is some of them did go through internal HR/recruiting. If the language came from recruiters, shame on them. If the language was requested by hiring managers, why aren’t recruiters taking a stand against this?

It takes courage to say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ is difficult. Standing up to hiring managers and saying no takes balls (and may have consequences), but it’s our job to advise our clients and keep our organizations on the right path. It’s our role to educate our hiring managers about best practices, processes, do’s/don’ts, and to share our intuition when our experience tells us we should pass on a candidate – even after the manager has fallen in love. No one likes to hear ‘no’. Broadly speaking, I think it’s important that HR professionals work hard to find more ways to say ‘yes’ and breakdown barriers rather than create roadblocks. However, if you’re ever asked to draft or post a job advertisement with language disqualifying those not currently employed – your answer should always be ‘no.’ If they don’t heed that advice, it’s time to find a new employer.

7 thoughts on “It Takes Courage To Say ‘No’. Taking A Stand Against Unemployment Discrimination.

  1. Anon

    Try working as a head hunter or in a staffing agency. This is exactly what they do. The unemployed people that sign up are usually given the temporary project assignments and are rarely if ever referred over to the permanent projects. It’s a vicious cycle. Keeping the right and educated people underemployed continuously.

  2. This is a great article about the very real problem of unemployment discrimination. And discriminating against the unemployed seems especially foolish now that the unemployment rate is holding steady at 8.3 percent. If you’re ignoring the unemployed, your company is cutting down on the talented pool of candidates available. One way to address the problem is to ask about a candidate’s employment history in the interview process, whether it’s in person or through online video. Instead of discriminating against employees, just address the elephant in the room.

    • That’s a good point. To make assumptions is short-sighted and feeding the problem. Recruiters need to take the time to understand each individual situation and let that shape their opinion of fit, potential, etc.

  3. We agree, and we’re pleased that there are many employers out there who realize and acknowledge that turning away job applicants solely on the grounds of employment status is unfair, discriminatory, and bad for the economy. These employers refuse to be part of the problem.

    • Thanks for your comment. You’re right, we need to educate those who use someone’s unemployment as a basis of elimination without attempting to understand the potential of the candidate.

  4. Hey Lars,

    It’s sad that this is still an issue. In the fall 2011, SmartRecruiters did a small poll (≈100 ppl) of exclusively HR and recruiters. We found the following results:

    — 82% confirm that “discrimination against the unemployed is a reality”
    — 55% say they have “personally experienced resistance when presenting a qualified yet unemployed candidates”
    — 53% see unemployed job seekers as “unemployed for a reason” or “probably not qualified.”

    We shared a pledge to get the unemployed more opportunities:

    Businesses should interview at least one unemployed candidate for every job opening. http://goo.gl/8TjYg #zeroUE

    It’d be great to talk more about what we can do to combat discrimination of the unemployed.

    Sincerely,
    David Smooke
    SmartRecruiters, Director of Social Media

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