Will Being Unemployed Be a New Protected Class?
State and federal lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned about how our economy is making it difficult for long term unemployed workers to get back into the workforce. As a result, there is a movement to make being unemployed a new protected class. With a larger than normal percentage of voters being unemployed, you can bet this will be popular with some politicians up for re-election in November.
California is one of a number of states where legislation has been introduced to protect unemployed workers and prohibit an employer from using a person's unemployed status at the time of applying for a job as a negative criteria in the hiring process. The California bill is AB 1450 and was introduced in January. In addition to the California bill, Congress has introduced HR 2501 in the House and S 1471, two bills that would provide similar protections on a nationwide basis.
Currently, most protected status suits deal with harassment and termination of the employment relationship. Hiring discrimination cases are relatively rare. However, if any of these bills pass, employers covered by them should expect a wave of new litigation by unemployed applicants applied for positions but were not hired. Employers will certainly have to alter their hiring practices and train those making the hiring decisions and doing the screenings, in order to ensure that they can defend against such suits.
These bills will be something to keep an eye on in the coming months. We will continue to keep you posted on this blog.