What is Unemployment Discrimination?

Finding a job when you’re out of work is an uphill battle. The jobless face unemployment discrimination and the stigma that comes with being unemployed.

Posted by Katie Yahnke in on November 15th, 2017

Someone who’s been jobless for only one month is significantly less desirable to recruiters. Their desirability declines the longer they’re out of work.

This is unemployment discrimination, and it occurs when a company refuses to hire someone solely because they’re out of work. Potential hires are often placed in the “no” pile due to their employment status and never given another glance.

Some employers make current employment a requirement in their job advertisements to filter the unemployed out right away. Others refuse a potential hire once they see a work gap in their resume.

Family-building may be one reason a person is out of work, but that shouldn’t impact their professional goals. Listen in on this informative webinar about pregnancy discrimination.

Recruiters think the unemployed are unemployed for a reason

Why doesn't anyone else want them?
Hiring managers believe that unemployed people are unemployed for a reason. “Why doesn’t anyone else want them?” they’ll ask.

They think that someone who’s without work is to blame whether that’s personality-related, because of their work ethic, or that they are lacking skills, untrainable or uncooperative.

Recruiters also think the unemployed have lost all their skills

Their skills are out of date.
Some hiring managers also believe that someone who has been out of the workforce for any amount of time is no longer qualified. Recruiters sometimes claim that “their skills are out-of-date”.

This isn’t always the case.

A photo editor who’s been out of work for a year likely remembers how to use Photoshop, although he or she may need a refresher to get back up to speed.

Even if they’re rusty, it’s a lot easier to retrain someone than start from the beginning.

Man leaving job. What is unemployment discrimination?

How is Jobless Discrimination Legal?

Jobless discrimination is technically legal because employment status isn’t considered a federally protected class, so those who face discrimination for being unemployed don’t have standing to use most discrimination statutes.

What’s a “Protected Class”?

Protected classes are groups of people who are protected from being discriminated against for a shared characteristic. It’s illegal to discriminate based on age, race, sex, religion, ancestry and disability, among a few others.

State Laws are Helping

The disparate impact of jobless discrimination may violate civil rights laws.
A number of states have realized the damage this could cause and have begun implementing state laws. Among these are New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

Some state laws strictly prohibit employers from discriminating against those who are unemployed, others have chosen to ban job advertisements with “currently employed” as a requirement.

The disparate impact of jobless discrimination may violate civil rights laws.

Certain protected groups have trouble finding work because of systemic oppression, such as those belonging to a certain race or age group. For example, African Americans, Native Americans, older individuals and the disabled are all over-represented in the unemployed pool.

Their overrepresentation means this form of discrimination has a disproportionate impact on those groups.

Pillars outside a courthouse. State laws are helping to fight unemployment discrimination

It’s Hurting Your Company

Many companies claim to be unaware that discriminatory messaging was used in their job advertisements and redirect the blame onto third-party recruiting companies.

Clarify the company's stance on jobless discrimination.
Regardless of whose fault, companies are unknowingly filtering out great candidates just because they happen to be unemployed.

If using a third-party for recruiting, clarify the company’s stance on jobless discrimination. Make sure everyone knows the company won’t tolerate discrimination towards anyone, including the unemployed.

Tips for Interviewing the Jobless

The conversation around jobless discrimination has dwindled in recent years, but there are still endless articles explaining how and when to explain employment gaps to an employer.

The how and the when are important, but don’t immediately write someone off because of an employment gap.

The best tip is to be open to other ways that the candidate may have stayed busy and up-to-date on new developments in their field. Did they enrol in classes? Did they volunteer or take an unpaid opportunity? Have they stayed on top of networking?

Don’t let your company miss out on valuable hires due to false and exaggerated beliefs about the unemployed.


Katie Yahnke
Katie Yahnke

Marketing Writer

Katie is the marketing writer at i-Sight. She writes on topics that range from fraud, corporate security and workplace investigations to corporate culture, ethics and compliance.