Although we keep hearing that the economy is improving, many people in New York City and around the country continue to be without work. In a cruel twist, it can be more difficult for a person to find a job the longer they remain unemployed. New York City amended its anti-discrimination law in 2013 to prohibit employers from discriminating in hiring based on a person’s employment status. Other jurisdictions have enacted laws addressing bias against unemployed people, but so far few are as far-reaching as New York City’s law. Federal law does not expressly protect the unemployed, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has considered the issue, and it offers guidance on how federal law may assist some people who believe their lack of employment led to the loss of a job opportunity.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 7.9 million people were unemployed in the U.S. in December 2015, a rate of five percent. This rate had not changed in three months, but it was down 0.6 percent from one year earlier. About 2.1 million people, or 26.3 percent, had been out of work for at least 27 weeks. This is less than half the number of long-term unemployed reported by the Washington Post—4.7 million—in April 2013, but it is still a considerable number of people who have been seeking a job for six months or longer. In an often subtle form of discrimination, many employers simply will not consider an applicant who has been out of work for a long time.
Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Discrimination based on age, disability, and other factors is unlawful in certain circumstances under other federal statutes. New York state law includes protections for these categories, as well as others like sexual orientation and marital status. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(a). None of these statutes specifically mentions unemployment.