Two bills introduced in congress this term would bar employers and employment agencies from discriminating against job applicants on the basis of their unemployment status. H.R. 1113, dubbed the Fair Employment Act of 2011, would amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make unemployment a protected characteristic. H.R. 1113 was referred in April to the House subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions. The bill was introduced by Rep. Henry Johnson (D-Ga.) and has 52 co-sponsors.
Likewise, H.R. 2501, called (confusingly) the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011, would create a free-standing federal law to prohibit discrimination based on the fact that an applicant is unemployed. The bill was introduced in the House July 12, 2011, by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and has 35 co-sponsors. This bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. On August 2, 2011, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) introduced a parallel bill in the Senate (S. 1471, the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011).
The idea that refusing to interview or hire someone simply because he or she is unemployed should be illegal has been picking up steam lately, given the awful job market and high unemployment rate. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had a public hearing on the practice in February, aimed at discussing the ways in which the practice has a disparate impact on minorities, older workers and people with disabilities, among whom unemployment rates are higher.
The Library of Congress provides a great tool to track the progress of these bills.