The nation’s first state law banning employers from discriminating against unemployed applicants has been affirmed as constitutional and will remain in effect thanks to a state appeals court decision this week.
Crest Ultrasonics had been fined by New Jersey for a job posting that said that applicants “must be currently employed.” The company had sought to overturn the state’s ban on hiring discrimination against the jobless, saying that the law violated its First Amendment rights. The state appellate court ruled against the company on Tuesday, upholding the fine and the law. The case originated in 2011, months after New Jersey banned that sort of requirement by hiring managers.
More than two years later, things remain especially bleak for the long-term jobless across the country. Few states prohibit discrimination against the unemployed, and studies have shown that hiring managers simply ignore applications from people who have been out of work for a long time. Being out of work for nine months — a common occurrence in the wake of the financial crisis — has the same effect on a person’s job prospects as losing four full years of work experience. Four million people have been out of work for six months or more, and hiring discrimination on the basis of joblessness leaves them in a catch-22 situation: being out of work renders them unable to get back to work.
The New Jersey ban on that discrimination was the first of its kind nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Oregon and the District of Columbia adopted similar measures in 2012, and a California ban passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D). In 2013, nine states — Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — considered legislation to ban discrimination in hiring against the unemployed. While those efforts did not bear fruit, New York City adopted a ban of its own over the summer, and Madison, WI enacted a similar ban last month.
Meanwhile, Federal action on behalf of embattled job seekers has been halting at best. Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) checks, the most helpful form of federal aid for the long-term unemployed, aren’t going out anymore after Congress allowed the entire program to lapse at the end of 2013. On hiring discrimination, Congress has done even less. There were two bills introduced in 2011 that would erect a nationwide ban on discriminating against the jobless in hiring that didn’t get passed. The ban also made it into President Obama’s broader American Jobs Act, which was repeatedly blocked by Republicans.
Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) took up a separate progressive idea for helping job hunters get a fair shake from hiring managers. Her bill would ban employers from requiring credit checks as a condition of hiring, a practice that provides no helpful information about a candidate’s qualifications, but which has a disproportionately negative impact on groups that already face higher hurdles to economic success than the typical American. Warren’s bill, which mirrors a proposal by progressive lawmakers in the House, would be stronger than the current patchwork of state bans on credit checks.