The Unemployment Discrimination Problem: D.C. Fights for Long-Term Unemployed

Nick Fishman


When graduating from college a little over three years ago, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy road as I searched for a full-time job. For the first few months, I worked several part-time jobs before finding a full-time position with EmployeeScreenIQ. While I was never without a job, I can imagine the stress and fear millions of Americans have experienced who have been unemployed for months—with no end in sight. As many have struggled to find work since the recession, it has become widely recognized that unemployment discrimination is a major issue in the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 2.95 million have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. However, the unemployment rate has dropped from 2.5% to 1.9% since December, meaning progress has been made—but there’s still work to be done. With the White House, over 300 companies announced they’re adopting best practices for recruiting and hiring the long-term unemployed.

A total of $170 million in 23 grants will help companies to train and hire the unemployed. While this benefits hundreds of companies in the U.S., others might not have the resources to jump on the bandwagon. So, for employers seeking to shed the unemployment bias and give unemployed candidates a chance, here are a few considerations when screening the long-term unemployed.

Positives of Hiring the Long-Term Unemployed

Aside from avoiding potential discriminatory hiring practices, there are several reasons in favor of hiring the long-term unemployed. For example, since they’ve been out of work for a while, these employees could prove to be more loyal to your company, as you are the one that was finally open to hiring them. In addition, they will likely be harder working, not only to prove themselves, but because they’re so grateful to have a job at all. The point is it’s not simply a matter of avoiding discrimination but giving candidates an opportunity because they deserve it—based on the skills, experience, and qualifications they do have. Not to mention they could be some of the best employees you’ve ever had.

Continue Using Background Checks

Most importantly, don’t stop performing employment background checks. While this process might still eliminate candidates, you can’t remedy discrimination by ignoring what is in the best interest of your company, employees, and customers. Rather than get rid of the background check, evaluate your current procedures to ensure that you don’t have requirements that automatically eliminate those that have been out of work for a certain period of time (keep reading to find out why this makes sense).

Automatic Disqualification of the Unemployed

Whether it’s through an internal screening process or a third party employment background check, many employers have been weeding out the long-term unemployed. To some, unemployment indicates that the person is unworthy of work or that their skills have drastically diminished —they haven’t been able to find a job so there must be something wrong with them. But with an increasing number of unemployed job seekers unable to find work, employers are now being called out for this discrimination.

Whether your screening process means sorting resumes manually or through a talent management system, don’t automatically throw away resumes with gaps of employment or without a current employer.

Don’t Judge a Candidate by their Resume Alone

You wouldn’t make a hiring decision based on a candidate’s resume alone, would you? Your candidates are people, not just words on a page. Those who have struggled with unemployment might have a resume with gaps in employment alongside self-employment and freelance work. But don’t let those deter you from pursuing them.

An employment verification with your background screening company could be a necessary tool to ensure you have the most accurate information on your job candidate. In addition, consider verifying their education. This information will further confirm if your candidate has the background you want for the open position.  In addition, perhaps they’ve taken other steps to improve their professional skills while they’ve been out of work. Maybe they’ve been freelancing, consulting, volunteering or even taking continuing education courses.  Some of these new skills might be exactly what you need.

Gaps in Employment

So how do you address lack of recent work experience? Rather than focus on gaps in a job seeker’s resume, look at the experience they do possess. To the best of your (or your screening partner’s) ability, verify self-employment, freelance work, and any other experience. This might require additional paperwork from the applicant or a reference call or two.

Whether they’ve been searching for a job while being supported by a spouse, parent, etc., or working part-time, there will likely be gaps in employment. So whether your company screens resumes internally or outsources to a background screening company, make sure you focus on the information that exists, rather than lack thereof.

Don’t Make Job Seekers into Liars

Another side to the employment verification in a background check, is the potential of resume embellishment. In our experience, 50% of resumes contain a discrepancy of some sort. So if job seekers hold the assumption that many companies won’t even look at their resume when they have been unemployed for the long-term or if they have gaps on their resume, they might be tempted to fib on a few dates—and maybe even their past salary.

So what can you do as an employer? Join the fight to change this bias against the unemployed. Be transparent with job candidates and let them know that gaps in employment are understandable and you will look at their qualifications as with any other candidate.

U.S. Bank Making a Difference for the Unemployed

Only one of many companies participating in the White House pilot initiative, U.S. Bank found success in their efforts to hire the long-term unemployed. How did they succeed? Take a look.

  • Talked with candidates about prior layoffs, but did not focus on it. They believe in looking at the person as a whole.
  • Partners with non-profits & government agencies to recruit the unemployed.
  • If a candidate applies, interviews, and is rejected from jobs within the company, a recruiter will work with them to find openings that might be a better fit.

Read more about U.S. Bank’s initiative, here.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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