Unemployment may be down, but it is not out

According to the latest numbers, the percentage of unemployed in the U.S. is on its way down. A good sign that the economy and the job market are getting a bit healthier. But it is relative. Getting over the flu does not make you well . . . it just means you aren’t as sick as you were.

There are still approximately 12.8 MILLION unemployed persons in our country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means there will still be a lot of competition for job openings. Some employers have decided to narrow the field by including an additional qualification in their job postings: “Applicants must be currently employed”.  It seems the old saying might just be true. Perhaps it really IS easier to get a job if you already have one.

Justifiable or not, the nation’s lawmakers have once again decided to stick their noses into your HR practices. Right now two bills are pending in Congress that would add “unemployed status” to the list of protected classes. Both bills seek to prevent employers with fifteen or more employees from discriminating against the unemployed when filling open positions, unless the employer can prove that it is a “bona fide occupational qualification”. (Sorry, sometimes you just can’t avoid the legalese.)

Proving that current employment is a “bona fide occupational qualification” may be just as difficult as convincing me that you should be required to consider candidates whose atrociously prepared resumes may reflect the very reason they are currently unemployed. Take this actual line found in an actual resume in which a candidate was outlining previous experience: “costomer service resolving costomers complaint”. I can imagine that the “costomers” of this individual might have a complaint or two. (FYI: this candidate also misspelled the name of the company for which he was resolving “costomer” complaints).

It’s not just at the Federal level. Several states legislatures, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, are considering similar bills. And they follow the lead of New Jersey, which adopted a law last March that prohibits employers and employment agencies from making “currently employed” a job qualification.

No matter what your justification, if your company would like to limit the number of applicants for an opening, this is probably a good time to reconsider automatically ruling out the unemployed. A better way to narrow the field is with strategically placed job postings.  To find qualified candidates with specific experience or education, consider advertising the opening on one of the many social media options or through an industry-specific professional organization or college job board. If you are looking for a broad spectrum of near-by applicants, the local paper may be your best bet.

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