Outlook poor for long-term unemployed

Minimum three years of experience. Ability to lift 75 pounds. Reliable transportation.

But one requirement, in bold type and uppercase letters, jumped from Abacus Corporation’s online listing in July:

“If you have not worked since 2009, do not apply!”

Ron Bouchard, who lost his Covington grading and pipeline job 20 months ago, was “outraged.”

“I’ve got all this experience and talent they’re looking for and they don’t even want to talk to me because I’ve been out of work longer than six months?” he said. “Talk about discrimination. That should be illegal.”

No agency tracks the frequency of job postings that restrict applicants based on length of unemployment, and the Georgia Labor Department says it is not widespread. Anecdotally, though, reports of the practice have grown this year.

It also infuriates the long-term unemployed -- half of Georgia's 500,000 unemployed workers have been jobless at least six months. Many consider it unfair, particularly with five unemployed people for every job opening.

Companies that restrict applicants counter that, due to the lousy economy, they’re inundated with resumes, phone calls and emails and eliminating the long-term unemployed helps them keep the applicant pool manageable. Currently employed workers are safer bets, they add, especially as many companies have laid off less valuable workers.

“When it comes to fork lift drivers in particular, where a slip of the hand could mean somebody doesn’t go home that night, you need to make sure you’re hiring the safest and most qualified person,” said Michael Brady, chief operating officer for Baltimore-based Abacus.

He said he was unaware of the do-not-apply job listing in McDonough and that his company doesn't routinely use such wording. But he added: “We typically want people with recent experience who are employed or recently unemployed.”

While the practice doesn't appear to be an obvious violation of law, it is being reviewed.

Labor experts, including Judy Conti with the National Employment Law Project in Washington, say some human resource directors believe there must be something wrong with a potential hire if he or she has been unemployed for a long time.

Jim Link, human resources director for Randstad US, the staffing firm headquartered in Atlanta, said companies do themselves a disservice by ruling out the long-term unemployed.

“The quality of the candidate available on the market has really never been better,”  Link said. “And they’re out there through no fault of their own. Employers may indeed be missing out on fantastic opportunities by ignoring these people.”

Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said the practice isn't illegal, but  labeled it "disappointing and troubling" in an interview Thursday.

Job postings sometimes use language like “unemployed candidates will not be considered,” or “must be currently employed” to cull candidates. In some cases, the language has been removed after media inquiries. 

Sony Ericsson, for example, announced last May the relocation of its headquarters to Buckhead and the hiring of 180 people. It contracted with The People Place, an Orlando-area job recruitment agency, to find applicants. Its job board included a listing for a marketing/public relations job.

"No unemployed candidates will be considered at all,” it read, in part.

Lauren Haralson, a spokeswoman for Sony Ericsson, said this week that “due to a miscommunication, a mistake was made” in the job posting, and blamed The People Place. However, she also acknowledged Sony wanted the posting to bring in applicants who already have jobs. Sony has received “a heavy load of unemployed applicants through our own postings and a request was made to recruiters to reach potential candidates who have jobs,” she explained in an email.

The People Place didn’t return calls this week. But another posting on its website earlier this year, for a Texas electronics company, said “client will not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason.”

In June, a South Carolina recruiter listed grocery store manager jobs across the Southeast with similar don’t-bother-to-apply language.

The Abacus Corp., which fills jobs for governments and corporations nationwide, sought warehouse workers and forklift drivers in July for a McDonough warehouse. The jobs paid between $8.50 and $11 an hour. To be considered, though, a prospect “must have worked within the last 6 months,” its on-line posting read.

“I can understand it if these were high-risk people who had DUIs or there was something on their resume that indicated a red flag,” said Bouchard, an ex-AT&T manager who later drove trucks and heavy equipment for a pipeline company. “But most of the people out of work for six months are hungry, eager for a job. We’ve been burned by this economy and would be more than happy to be at work.”

Brady said Abacus is simply being prudent by trying to avoid the hiring of bad employees.

“A person’s motivation is important to us. If they say, ‘My unemployment (benefits) are going to expire next week and I really need a job,’ we note that in the screening process,” Brady said. “People who are currently employed … are the kind of people you want as opposed to people who get cut.”

Bouchard, 63, has applied for maybe 1,200 jobs. He said last year he didn’t come across a single posting that imposed time restrictions. This year, he said, he has seen maybe a dozen notices.

Conti, the lobbyist for the nonprofit National Employment Law Project in Washington, said restricting job seekers by length of unemployment could be discriminatory and illegal. The black jobless rate, for example, is nearly double the rate for whites.

“Across the country, long-term unemployment is affecting people of color disproportionately,” said Conti, whose organization advocates for low-income workers. “So if employers have policies that seem neutral on their face, but may have a ‘disparate impact’ on people of color, that may run afoul of the law.”

Conti said the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “is looking into” companies that restrict job applicant pools. An EEOC spokeswoman said “confidentiality requirements bar us from discussing specific charges of discrimination.”

Jan Ferrara of Decatur, who was laid off from CNN in February 2009, said it should be illegal for companies to summarily weed out any job applicant. 

“In this economy, when people have been out of work so long, it’s blatantly unfair to discriminate this way,” said Ferrara who hasn't encountered the tactic in her own job search. “It can only be good for the economy and society to hire the long-term unemployed.”

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