Anecdotal information suggests that some firms place job advertisements that discourage the unemployed from applying. Employers and staffing agencies have advertised jobs in technology fields such as electrical engineering noting that only currently employed candidates would be considered according to Helen Norton, a professor at the University of Colorado law school. She was testifying at a February 16, 2011 meeting of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She reported, “Some employers may use current employment as a signal of quality job performance,” Norton testified. “But such a correlation is decidedly weak. A blanket reliance on current employment serves as a poor proxy for successful job performance.” This seems reasonable when pharmaceutical firms, are terminating research in various therapeutic areas, closign enitre R&D centers, and laying off thousands of laboratory professionals.

Why this can be a mistake


Are some lab managers not considering job applicants for job openings just because they are unemployed? There appears to be a growing possibility that this could expose hiring managers and their firms to discrimination lawsuits. It could also be a mistake resulting in overlooking excellent candidates for job openings.


Some managers are disinclined to consider hiring jobless employment candidates reasoning that there must be a reason for their unemployment that will detract from job performance. This appears to be particularly the case for the long-term unemployed, those jobless for six months or more. This is the most common U.S. definition for long-term unemployment.


Speaking at the ACS Leadership Institute, David Harwell, Assistant Director of the ACS Office of Career Management and Development, noted, “Statistically, people who have been unemployed for two years or more never reenter the workforce; they are generally absorbed into assistance programs or enter retirement early.”


The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is trying to determine whether this is a widespread tactic. The EEOC is investigating whether excluding the unemployed has a greater effect on minority groups that tend to have higher jobless rates. Currently there are no specific legal protections for the unemployed regarding discrimination in job hunting. However, William Spriggs, assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor said that the potential for discrimination is certainly there. He observed that the chances of an employer considering an ethnic minority for a job opening are reduced by one-third if jobless applicants are excluded from discrimination. For example, the pool of disabled applicants would be reduced by nearly 50%.   


Stuart Ishimaru, a member of the EEOC, notes that not considering unemployed for job openings could raise a serious question of corporate liability if this does indeed lead to discrimination.


The Labor Department is aware of anecdotal reports that some recent company advertisements have discouraged the unemployed from applying. It will be difficult to determine if this problem is in fact significant in the chemistry job market because most chemistry jobs are not publically posted (the so-called hidden job market).


Considering the long-term unemployed


Many reports of the long-term unemployed experiencing depression and other psychological problems date back to an era when unemployment among professionals was much less common.  Is such the case now when long-term unemployment, even among laboratory professions, is so much more widespread?


So what can you do to both consider long-term unemployed job candidates for employment while still making wise hiring decisions? According to Catherine S. Farley, a Seattle-based managing director of Accenture, a management consulting firm, a critical question is whether the unemployed candidate is doing things to keep their skills fresh. Using this as a criterion will enable laboratory managers to both consider jobless candidates for employment and cite a reason for excluding them that will pass muster with both the EEOC and their own conscience.