When Sony Ericsson needed new workers after it relocated its U.S. headquarters to Atlanta last year, its recruiters told one particular group of applicants not to bother. "No unemployed candidates will be considered at all," one online job listing said.
The cell-phone giant later said the listing, which produced a media uproar, had been a mistake. But other companies continue to refuse to even consider the unemployed for jobs a harsh catch-22 at a time when long-term joblessness is at its highest level in decades.
Refusing to hire people on the basis of race, religion, age or disability among other categories is illegal. But companies that turn away jobless people as a group are generally not breaking the law at least for now.
Job seekers have long known, of course, that it's easier to land a job when you are still working. There are no hard data on discrimination against the unemployed. But there have been reports from across the country of companies' making clear in job listings that they are not interested in people who are out of work. Employment experts say other companies have policies of hiring only people with jobs but do not publicly acknowledge their bias.
At an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing this year, Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, declared that "excluding the unemployed" is "becoming business as usual." Owens testified about a 55-year-old California woman who had applied for a job as a software-systems engineer. The recruiter for the position was enthusiastic until she learned that the woman had been out of work for six months. At that point, she told the woman she could not forward her résumé to the hiring company.
The apparent uptick in such incidents couldn't come at a worse time for the unemployed. The Great Recession has produced an unusually large number of long-term jobless. Forty percent of the nation's unemployed some 4.4 million people have been out of work for a year or more, the highest level since World War II. The long-term unemployed have far more difficulty finding work than people who have left the workforce more recently. The problem is worst for workers over 50, who often face age discrimination as well.
Some employers argue that they have a perfectly reasonable right to weed out the unemployed and that it is just good business. People who have lost jobs or have never been hired are less qualified as a group than those who are currently working, they say. People who are out of the workforce for a significant period of time may also have fallen behind in skills.