Just a few days ago, in a landmark move, the Common Council of Madison, Wisconsin passed ORD-13-00211 to prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants based on their unemployment status. Madison, in passing this new anti-discrimination ordinance, joins a small group of areas across the country that have done the same as it is not likely such will become federal or even Wisconsin state law.
New Jersey, Oregon and the City of Chicago ban advertisements that disallow unemployed individuals from applying and Washington D.C. and the City of New York have curtailed the consideration of an applicant's unemployment status in adverse hiring decisions.
As many employment law practitioners are already aware, the City of Madison offers significantly protective ordinances to protect employees and ORD-13-00211 amends Section 39.03 of Madison's Equal Opportunities Ordinance to prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals based on their unemployment status with respect to their compensation, or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Along these lines, employers may not limit, segregate, or classify employees or job applicants based on unemployment status so as to deprive them of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect their employment status. The new ordinance does, however, expressly allow employers to inquire into or consider the facts or circumstances that led to the applicant's unemployment. Like the NJ, OR and Chicago laws, it is also unlawful to discriminate in job advertisements.
It will be curious how difficult it will be for those who file complaints under this new ordinance with the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission to prevail and what is needed to meet their burden but at least perhaps a few employers will consciously cease discriminating against unemployed applicants in this increasingly competitive job market.