New legislation will make it unlawful for employers to discriminate against unemployed job seekers

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, joined by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer), Council Member Leroy Comrie, Council Member Vincent Gentile, Council Civil Rights Committee Chair Deborah Rose, and advocates gathered today to announce the introduction of legislation that will prohibit employers from using a person’s job status in a hiring decision. The proposed law will also ban “help-wanted” ads that state that the unemployed will not be considered for posted job openings. Speaker Quinn first announced the proposal, sponsored by Council Members Comrie and Gentile, during her State of the City address last month.

Since the economic downturn, officials have reported seeing several examples of job postings that require would-be candidates to be currently employed.

“While there are encouraging signs that our economy is beginning to improve, the recovery is still fragile and we must do more to help New Yorkers find work. Prohibiting employers from discriminating against the unemployed will end a practice that has kept too many of our city’s residents from applying for work they are qualified to do,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “The long-term unemployed face some of the bleakest job prospects in our economy and we can’t stand by and watch them be needlessly held back. That’s why we are introducing this legislation. I want to thank Council members Comrie and Gentile for their work on this issue.”

New York City’s unemployment rate rose in January to a 16-month high of 9.3 percent, up from 9.1 percent in December — that’s one percentage point higher than the nationwide unemployment rate of 8.3 percent. The situation is particularly damaging for low-income and minority populations, who have endured the worst of this recession. The unemployment rate for blacks is around 13.6 percent and 10 percent for Hispanics. Nationally, the long-term unemployed comprise almost 43 percent of the unemployed population.

Within this economic market, screening out job applicants based on their unemployment status prevents well-qualified New Yorkers from applying for jobs. Further, there is no evidence to prove that someone is unemployed is a predictor of job performance.

To address this situation, Council Members Comrie and Gentile will introduce legislation making it an unlawful discriminatory practice for employers to use unemployment status as a basis for a hiring decision. Under this law, employers would still be permitted to request or use someone’s unemployment status information, as long as they have a bona fide reason that is substantially job related for doing so or if they need to assess the circumstances around an applicant’s previous termination or demotion from another position. The legislation would also prohibit employers from advertising or announcing a job opening with language that the unemployed need not apply.

“We shouldn’t be penalizing the jobless – we should be helping them get back on their feet,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “At a time when unemployment in New York is hovering at 9%, it’s tough enough trying to find work. But a policy that lets employers discriminate against the unemployed is unacceptable even in the best of times. My office highlighted this loophole in October 2011, and I am pleased that the City Council is moving forward with legislation to ban the practice. “

“Preventing otherwise well-qualified men and women from applying for a job simply because they are currently unemployed is counterintuitive and unconscionable, said Council Member Vincent Gentile. “Now is not the time for catch-22’s – we need to be doing everything we can to help New Yorkers get back to work. This important piece of anti-discrimination legislation arrives not a moment too soon.”

“With the economy just beginning to recover but with close to 800,000 people still unemployed, it is more important than ever that we assist and protect New Yorkers seeking employment from employers, agencies, and online sites. In these particularly hard times, a person’s present employment status should not make them any less qualified to gain a job,” said Council Member Leroy Comrie.

“By denying employers the opportunity to consider an applicant’s current job status in the selection process we are stopping blatant discrimination against the most vulnerable and giving many New Yorkers new opportunities to find jobs for which they would previously be unfairly disqualified. Job seekers should be considered primarily on the merits of their skills and talents and not if they are currently working.

Our Local Law would prohibit an employment decision based on the unemployment record of the applicant. I applaud the Speaker, my co-sponsor Council Member Vincent Gentile and my colleagues for their leadership on this issue. This is the right time for such legislation. We must continue to level a very un-level playing field.”

Council Member Debi Rose, Chair of the Council’s Civil Rights Committee said, “I want to thank Speaker Quinn for championing this legislation, and Council Members Comrie and Gentile for sponsoring it. As New York City continues to rebound from the recession of 2008-2009, it is important that we help hard working New Yorkers who, through no fault of their own, lost their jobs and are now dealing with the toughest job market since the depression. We will not allow them to be penalized twice – first through losing a job because of the economy, and then again by being denied a job interview because they lost their job. Discrimination against the unemployed is just as bad as not hiring someone because of their race, creed, or sexual orientation. And in fact this practice could have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, as African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have higher rates of unemployment. As a City, we must say no to this practice and put an end to it. This legislation will go a long way towards redressing this insidious practice.”

Mitchell Hirsch, an advocate with the National Employment Law Project said, “We applaud Councilmembers Comrie and Gentile and Speaker Quinn for acknowledging the serious problem of job market practices that exclude unemployed job-seekers from consideration for employment, and for taking this step to bringing these discriminatory practices to an end in New York City. As job growth improves and job openings increase, it is vitally important that qualified individuals who happen to be unemployed are afforded a fair playing field when it comes to employment opportunities. It is time to ensure that the job market is no longer akin to a giant game of musical chairs where only those who already have jobs can play.”
“Any time an employer selects employees based on criteria other than the ability to do the job, the employer runs the risk of unintentionally violating EEO laws. The question to be asked is—how is the status of being unemployed job related?” said Esta R. Bigler, Director Labor and Employment Law Program Cornell ILR. “Using unemployment to screen out applicants falls more heavily on African-American and Latino workers, who have much higher rates of unemployment (12.6% and 11.4%) than white workers (6.7%), and older workers who, once they lose their jobs, remain unemployed for longer periods of time. This legislation is especially important now, since over the past year the unemployment rate in NYC has steadily crept up from 8.8% to 9.3%.”