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Proposed Connecticut Bill Prohibits Employers From Taking Certain Actions Based on Unemployment Status

Have you as an employer ever written in a job posting that only currently employed or recently unemployed applicants will be considered, or denied an applicant because he or she had a history of unemployment?

It sounds counterintuitive at first—like a restaurant turning away hungry people—but some employers may be concerned that unemployment itself indicates a lack of requisite experience or that a long-unemployed individual is motivated for any job at all.  A Connecticut bill currently under consideration would prohibit such hiring practices, following in the footsteps of New York City, New Jersey, Oregon, and D.C.

House Bill 5274, as amended, An Act Concerning Unemployed Individuals and Discriminatory Hiring Practices, would prohibit employers, employment agencies, and temporary help services from taking several actions if they are based solely on a person’s “status as unemployed.”  “Status as unemployed” includes not only current unemployment, but also past gaps in employment, regardless of duration.  The prohibited actions include:  (1) disqualifying a person from employment; (2) refusing to refer a person for employment (or requesting that he or she not be referred); and (3) limiting a person’s access to information about a job.

The bill does not prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to hold valid licenses, registrations, or other credentials, considering a person’s employment history, including recent relevant experience, or asking about the reasons behind a person’s unemployment.

Of course, whether an employer’s decision was based purely on unemployment status or a lack of credentials may be hard to distinguish.  Detection and enforcement will be a challenge when there is any number of reasons why an employer might deny an applicant.

Notably, the bill does not amend Connecticut’s human rights law to include “unemployment status” as a protected class of people, unlike the New York City legislation.  If passed, the bill would allow an aggrieved party to file a complaint with the labor commissioner, who has the authority to issue fines without, apparently, giving the employer notice or holding a hearing.  A fined employer also has no explicit right of appeal.

The current bill, which passed the House on April 25, 2014, would be effective October 1, 2014.  The Senate has yet to take it up.  Check back for updates as we follow this important legislation.