OUT OF WORK, OUT OF LUCK? City Council OKs law banning discrimination against unemployed job hunters

January 23, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Additional reporting by Paula Katinas

The New York City Council passed a law on Wednesday afternoon that prohibits employers from discriminating against unemployed job applicants. The bill passed by an overwhelming majority, 44 to 4.

Mayor Bloomberg has said he plans to veto the bill because it would “only make it harder for employers to hire New Yorkers who need jobs, as they will fear litigation from every candidate who comes through the door,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

A spokesperson for the City Council told the Brooklyn Eagle that the Council would override the Mayor’s veto.

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Intro 814-A prohibits employers from considering a person’s employment status in a hiring decision without a substantially job-related reason for doing so. It would also ban help wanted ads that invite only employed candidates to apply.

The legislation was expected to be a boon to large numbers of Brooklyn residents caught in the unemployment trap. Roughly 9.5 percent of Brooklyn residents are without jobs, higher than New York City’s overall rate of 8.8 percent. The country as a whole had an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent in December 2012, according to the state Labor Department.

Weeding out the unemployed “has become the new face of employment discrimination,” Council Member Vincent Gentile (D – Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach and Dyker Heights) said in a statement Tuesday. Gentile is a lead sponsor of the bill along with Queens Council Member Leroy Comrie.

“If you are otherwise qualified, being unemployed should not prevent you from securing a job,” he said. “This important piece of legislation will effectively end this perverse Catch-22 that has served only to deepen our unemployment crisis in New York City.”

The bill had the support of Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer as well as the National Employment Law Project, a national advocacy organization for employment rights of lower-wage workers.

A spokesperson for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commence told the Brooklyn Eagle they had no comment on the legislation.

New York City’s version of the bill is coming out in advance of one of being considered by President Barack Obama as part of a jobs package. Though banning discrimination, the federal legislation would allow employers to consider the job applicant’s work history and examine why the person is unemployed, if that were relevant to ability to perform a job.

Republicans argue against the plan, saying that job discrimination on the basis of employment status was rare. “Letting unemployed workers sue . . . would raise the cost of creating new jobs — each unemployed applicant would become a potential lawsuit,” said James Sherk and Andrew M. Grossman, writing for the Heritage Foundation.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, however, said in a statement on Tuesday that a review of job postings by his office last October uncovered dozens of city job listings that required candidates to be currently employed.

In the New York City bill, an employer can still consider whether an applicant has a current or valid professional license or other important credential, or a minimum level of education or training, regardless of employment status.

Once enacted, an individual who believes he or she has been unlawfully discriminated against will be able to take action in court or make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

Speaker Quinn first announced the proposal during her 2012 State of the City address and introduced the bill, sponsored by Council Members Leroy Comrie and Vincent Gentile, last March.

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