Obama Proposes Plan to Protect the Unemployed From Discrimination

The Obama administration has received both criticism and praise for a proposal aimed at protecting the jobless from being rejected by employers on the basis of their unemployment status.

The job creation bill President Barack Obama has introduced to Congress includes a provision that would make it unlawful for companies of 15 or more employees to deny employment based on the knowledge that the applicant had been unemployed, according to The New York Times.

Advocates for the unemployed are applauding the provision, while business groups and their allies see it as unnecessary and counterproductive.

Unsuccessful job applicants could sue and recover damages for violations, just as they have been able to do for discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

The provision would also prevent job notices from explicitly excluding the unemployed, with phrases like "Jobless need not apply."

"This is a practice that, regardless of its magnitude, adds to the difficulty that millions of unemployed workers are facing today in navigating the toughest job market any of us has ever experienced," Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, told Bloomberg News.

Owens related a story of a telephone company in Atlanta that ran a help wanted ad, which explicitly requested that only the employed apply. She did not identify the company.

Michael J. Eastman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opposed the provision, saying, "We do not see a need for it."

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) agreed. He rejected the plan on the basis that the provision would establish the unemployed as a "protected class."

He argued to The New York Times that the proposal, if passed, would encourage litigation.

"If you're unemployed and you go to apply for a job, and you're not hired for that job, see a lawyer. You may be able to file a claim because you got discriminated against because you were unemployed," said Gohmert.

In support of the measure, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) commented, "In a tough job market, where workers are competing against tens and sometimes hundreds of people for every available job opening, it is unjust for employers to discriminate against those who are unemployed."

The Labor Department reports that 14 million people are unemployed and 43 percent of those, six million people, are classified as long-term unemployed, who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more.

Of the 14 million unemployed, 4.5 million have been unemployed for a year or more. The average duration of unemployment is 40 weeks, the longest in more than 60 years.