NYC adopts nation's toughest law against refusing to hire unemployed

NEW YORK, N.Y. – New York City will soon have the nation’s most far-reaching laws barring employers from shunning out-of-work job applicants, after lawmakers passed the provisions Wednesday over a mayoral veto.

When the law takes effect in three months, the city will be the fourth place in the country with some form of legislation against discriminating against unemployed job-seekers. But it will be alone in letting applicants sue employers for damages over claims that they were rejected because of their joblessness.

“We cannot and will not allow New Yorkers who are qualified and ready to work and looking to work to have the door of opportunity slammed in their faces,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.

It felt like that to Joe Capone as he looked for work after a tough break more than three years ago: He left his information technology support job in late 2009 for a better-paying offer that then got rescinded.

At one point, he said, a recruiter told him to fudge his resume to say he’d been working, or he’d never get a response. He didn’t follow the advice and eventually found a job in December 2011.

But it still bothers Capone that unemployment may be holding other job-seekers back.

“It’s something that’s totally out of their control, especially in certain fields,” said Capone, 46, who lives in the city.

Unemployment-discrimination laws have been floated around the country in recent years. President Barack Obama proposed one in 2011, and New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., have passed laws barring jobs ads that say applicants must be employed. New Jersey, which enacted the first such measure in 2011, has cited at least one company for an ad that excluded jobless applicants, its state Labor Department says.

But the concept has hit roadblocks in other states. California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed an unemployment-discrimination measure last fall, indicating he wasn’t happy with changes made to it. At least 15 other states have considered the idea but haven’t enacted it.

Unemployed job-hunters and their advocates say it’s illogical and unfair to be required to have a job to get a job, particularly after years of high unemployment and layoffs. Nationally, more than 1 in 3 unemployed workers has been looking for at least six months, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says.

Excluding them from consideration for new jobs just prolongs the problem, for them and the economy alike, worker advocates say.

But businesses and Mayor Michael Bloomberg say lawmakers shouldn’t try to dictate how hiring choices get made, and they predict the unemployment-discrimination measure will lead to baseless lawsuits from applicants who are disgruntled but weren’t discriminated against.

“It is essentially open season on employers in New York City,” said Keith Gutstein, an employment lawyer who represents businesses.

Bloomberg, a billionaire who founded and ran a financial-information firm before going into politics, wrote in his veto message last month that “the circumstances surrounding a person’s unemployment status may, in certain situations, be relevant” in choosing a candidate.

Bloomberg didn’t elaborate. But experts say hiring managers may think — if sometimes unfairly — that unemployed applicants might have lost their jobs because of their own problems or that they’ll take an offer out of desperation and then leave if something better comes up.

If an applicant hasn’t been working for a couple of years, companies might worry that his or her skills are rusty in an era when many industries are changing rapidly, said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group.

An October 2011 search of New York City-based job listings found more than a dozen that explicitly required candidates to be employed, according to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office. A broader review that year by the National Employment Law Project, a worker-advocacy group, found 150 ads that were restricted to or aimed at people currently working.


Follow Jennifer Peltz at