People fill out applications during a job fair in Bloomington, Minn., in… (Ariana Lindquist, Bloomberg )
Reporting from Sacramento — Even though the labor market is improving, thousands of unemployed Californians are caught in a bind: Some employers only want to hire them if they already have a job.
Some companies state that plainly in employment ads. Others are more discreet, screening out jobless workers during the initial application process. Discrimination? Perhaps. But so far it's legal.
But it won't be if a bill introduced this week by Assemblyman Michael Allen (D-Santa Rosa) is approved by California lawmakers. The proposed legislation would fine employers or employment agencies that refuse to consider out-of-work applicants for openings.
"To say that otherwise qualified individuals cannot even apply for a position solely because they are unemployed, particularly in light of the fact that so many of our unemployed workers have been out of work for extended periods of time, is truly unconscionable," Allen said in a statement released by his office.
New Jersey, to date, is the only state to approve such anti-discrimination legislation. Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill last March that prohibits advertising of a job that "knowingly or purposely" states that "qualifications for a job include current employment."
Similar bills are pending in Congress and in other states.
Discrimination against the unemployed is a new trend that appeared as the country struggles with stubbornly high unemployment in the wake of the 2007-09 recession, said a study released in July by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for the unemployed and low-wage workers.
A survey of online job postings found 125 ads from named companies that required applicants to be employed.
"This perverse catch-22 is deepening our unemployment crisis by arbitrarily foreclosing job opportunities to many who are otherwise qualified for them," the study said.
Employer groups in California, where the unemployment rate was 11.3% in November, declined to comment on Allen's bill, saying they had not had time to analyze the proposal.
Allen's office already has received a handful of requests from fellow Democratic lawmakers to co-author his bill, AB 1450, spokesman David Miller said. The legislator is hoping that California Republicans will also support the bill, just as their counterparts did in New Jersey.