May 3, 2012
“Must be currently employed” is a stipulation that employers in Massachusetts are free to put in their job advertisements. The jobless need not apply. Telling people that the very fact they are unemployed renders them unworthy of consideration is not only unreasonable but also discriminatory.
New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have banned advertisements of this kind, and the National Employment Law Project says that a dozen more states are considering similar measures (check out the MSNBCvideo on their site). But the Obama administration’s effort to outlaw the practice nationwide through the American Jobs Act is making no headway in the Republican-controlled Congress, and so far there is no state law in Massachusetts expressly prohibiting this particular form of discrimination.
In the meantime, because unemployment is higher in communities of color the current anti-discrimination statute may provide some protection for people on the receiving end of anti-jobless bias. For example, the March 2012 statewide unemployment average in Massachusetts was 6.4%, but the rates were higher in cities where most of the residents are people of color. In Holyoke the March unemployment rate was 9.3% and in Springfield it was 10.1%. So in the Pioneer Valley region as a whole, an advertisement that expresses a bias against the unemployed will have a disparate impact on people of color. It is possible, therefore, that a would-be applicant who is African-American or Hispanic could have a claim under Chapter 151B.
If you think the law should stop employers from ruling out applications from people who are simply looking for work, or if you know of any organizations in Massachusetts that are pushing state-level legislation to address the problem, please let me know.