New York City Council Passes Landmark Bill Protecting Unemployed Job-Seekers From Discrimination


BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: MARCH 13 - The New York City Council today voted 43-4 to override a mayoral veto and enact strongest-in-the-nation legislation prohibiting employers from refusing to consider or hire qualified job applicants simply because they are unemployed.

UPDATE: Feb. 22 - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg today vetoed the unemployment discrimination bill passed last month by the City Council.  National Employment Law Project Executive Director Christine L. Owens issues statement in response.

Original Jan 24, 2013 post:

The New York City Council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for a bill that prohibits discrimination in hiring against the unemployed, the strongest measure of its kind in the nation.  Passed by a veto-proof margin of 44 to 4, the measure forbids employers from basing hiring decisions on applicants’ unemployment status and from posting job advertisements that require applicants to be employed.

Prior to the vote, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Council Members hailed the groundbreaking legislation that extends protections to unemployed job-seekers as part of the city's civil rights code.  “Imagine spending every day and night for months upon months upon months looking for a job – only to be told ‘don’t even bother… unemployed need not apply.’ We cannot – and will not – allow New Yorkers who are qualified and ready to work have the door of opportunity slammed in their faces. The long-term unemployed face some of the greatest challenges in their job searches. Tomorrow, we will vote to remove one obstacle they simply should not have to face,” Speaker Quinn said Tuesday.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) and our Web site have been consistently engaged in advocacy on this issue for the last two years, including support for the federal Fair Employment Opportunity Act, introduced in the last Congress, and included in President Obama's proposed American Jobs Act.

Responding to the action by the New York City Council, NELP executive director Christine L. Owens said:

“Refusing to consider qualified job-seekers for employment opportunities because they are unemployed is simply wrong-headed and unfair. The practice deepens the hardship of those struggling to return to the workforce, and exacerbates the crisis levels of long-term unemployment that New Yorkers—and Americans across the country—continue to face. We commend Speaker Quinn and the City Council for taking this important step to ensure that the doors of employment opportunity are open to those who are trying so hard to secure new work.”

Data compiled recently by the Fiscal Policy Institute show just how acute the problem of long-term unemployment is in New York City, particularly for African-Americans and Latinos, women, the less-educated and older workers.  In 2012, more than half (51 percent) of all unemployed workers in New York City were jobless for more than six months.

Long-term Unemployment: NYC 2012

These crisis levels of long-term unemployment are being aggravated by discriminatory hiring practices that affect unemployed workers.  It has been clear for some time that many employers, recruiters and staffing firms have been arbitrarily excluding even highly qualified job-seekers from being considered for jobs simply because applicants happen to be unemployed.  Researchers at the UCLA Anderson School of Management documented the “pervasive” practice in a recent study entitled The Stigma of Unemployment: When Joblessness Leads to Being Jobless (published by Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper 2011-98, December 2011).  That study concluded: “In sum, the results of these studies suggest that the unemployed may have a legitimate concern about bias against them because the psychological stigma of the unemployed exists, occurs instantaneously (i.e., the moment an individual is unemployed), is unjustifiable (i.e., without regard to qualifications), is pervasive (i.e., affects resume and live person evaluations), is difficult to alleviate (i.e., causal controllability of unemployment onset did not affect stigma) and has negative consequences (i.e., leads to hiring bias against the unemployed).”

The bill passed by the New York City Council amends the city’s anti-discrimination laws to make it unlawful to exclude the unemployed who are “available for work, and seeking work” from consideration for employment and prohibits discriminatory job postings that contain exclusionary language. Workers have the right in appropriate situations to file a complaint alleging a violation of the law with the New York City Commission on Human Rights and to pursue remedies in court. In addition, the bill instructs the Commission to educate employers, employment agencies and job seekers about their rights under the new law.

The measure permits employers to consider an individual’s unemployment in the hiring process where there is a “substantially job-related reason” for doing so, thus maintaining employer flexibility to consider unemployment status in appropriate situations. It also protects employers' ability to inquire into the circumstances surrounding an applicant’s separation from employment and to impose other necessary job requirements, such as professional, educational, or occupational licensing standards.

The mayor has said he intends to veto the bill, but with 44 votes in favor of passage the Council has more than enough support to override the veto.  The bill would be enacted as law at that point, and the measure would be effective 90 days hence.  During that three-month period, the city's Commission on Human Rights would be required to conduct an ongoing outreach and education campaign to inform employers, employment agencies and job-seekers about their rights and obligations under the new law.

Read NELP's Fact Sheet on the bill passed in the New York City Council.

Have you been told you would not be considered for a job, despite your qualifications, simply because you're unemployed?  Tell us your story.


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