Does Unemployed = Unqualified? Refusing to Hire the Long-Term Unemployed

by Michael Haberman on October 5, 2010 · 1 comment


A trend in hiring seems to be developing. According to Don Chapman, a reporter for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, an increasing number of companies, looking for both white collar and blue collar workers, are specifying in the “Want Ads” that workers who have been unemployed since 2009 need not apply. In his article “Long-term jobless told not to apply” Mr. Chapman relates a number of stories of applicants being turned away because they have been unemployed for more than six months.

The reasons being given by employers vary. The include:

  • We only want people who have current skills
  • We only want people who are motivated
  • Someone thought they were deadwood, why would we want them
  • If they were good they would be employed
  • Using time of unemployment as a screening tool lets us keep our applicant pool manageable.

The question is: Is this the proper way to go about this? Sure I understand some of the reasoning and motivation behind what is being done, but I can think of other ways to accomplish this without the VERY PUBLIC DOWNSIDE to running an ad like this. And what is the downside? Here is a list.

  1. First, you get your company named splashed all over the front page in a very negative way.
  2. You may be engaging in disparate impact which will get you investigated by the EEOC. AND THEY ARE WATCHING. Disparate impact comes from the fact that a larger percentage of the long term unemployed are racial minorities, older workers or the disabled and by having an across-the-board ban on long term unemployed applicants you are discriminating against them. You will have the burden of proof in defending your “bona fide” business reason for using that selection process.
  3. You are SCREAMING “COME AND ORGANIZE US”  to any union paying attention. If you are “unfair” in one aspect of your business you may be “unfair” in another and your employees may be good targets for the “help” of a union.
  4. You may actually be missing some very good workers. Maybe an applicant has gone and gotten recent training in the job for which they are applying and thus may be more current or safer than even the people you have on staff right now. If you will not accept their application you will never know. You may also be missing people who will be hard working and productive because they have had a taste of unemployment and they don’t like it. They want to avoid it in the future and so they will bust their butts to be good in order to avoid it in the future.

So what can you do to avoid having to look at 10,000 applications? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Be more specific in your minimum requirements. “Must be able to lift 50 lbs. and have warehouse experience” is going to get you way too many people. Besides you have to be willing to make a reasonable accommodation on the lifting. If you have a particular warehouse computer system then make experience with that a minimum requirement. Increasing your “minimum requirements” and stating that they are a minimum will help some.
  2. If you have a particuar skill that is necessary and you want to make sure that the applicant has it use a screening test. There are commercial tests that have been shown to be both valid and reliable that will help you cull through applicants.
  3. If you are anticipating a large volume of applicants and don’t have the staff to handle it, then consider outsourcing the process.
  4. Don’t accept applications if you don’t have an opening.

Those are just a few suggestions. I am sure my recruiting friends out there can come up with other suggestions. Or do some of you think this trend is the best way to go? I would like to hear some “PRO” arguments if you have one.

I know the truism that “a currently employed candidate is the best candidate” is still widely held in the business world among HR people. However, in today’s world it may not be so true and certainly may not be the most prudent method to use to fill most jobs.

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