Yes, Virginia Unemployment Discrimination Exists

Unemployment discrimination

While Rayanne this last week has been writing about age discrimination and ageism there is a silent discriminator amongst us one that affects over 14 million job seekers who are unemployed.


A candidate walks into your office or a resume graces your desk.  You quickly scan the resume and it peaks your interest, but you notice there’s an large gaping hole between their last job and present day.  Doubt sets in and you begin to wonder if this candidate really has what it takes.  You know better because being unemployed or having an unemployment family member has likely touched your family in some way.  Still you think to yourself that you don’t know if you want to waste the time or effort trying to convince your boss that this candidate’s employment gap doesn’t matter.

As someone who has worked in the human resources industry for 11 years, I’ve seen all forms of discrimination.  I have stories that could fill 10,000 pages of books about the time a manager informed me that he wanted to hire a male security guard instead of a female purely because they (men) were “better suited for the job.”  Unemployment discrimination is the cruelest of forms.  It cuts across age group, sex, and income level.  It is the silent discriminator.

In 2008 three weeks before my daughter was born, my husband got the call.  The economy was in the crapper, and his services were no longer needed any longer.  Greg is one of the top 25 in his field working as a healthcare security and information technology consultant who went from making a six figure income to $400 dollars a week on unemployment.

Being unemployed, laid off, or down sized is not just a humbling experience, it is a shocking life altering, perception-changing experience.  An experience where you begin to question yourself and your professional worth.  Our family went from two incomes to one and just before the Thanksgiving holiday.  For nearly 10 months, my husband networked and job searched, while also serving as the primary care giver to our new baby girl.  It was the scariest time and best time (because of our daughter) of our lives.

Yes, Virginia Unemployment Discrimination Exists

As someone who has seen the ugly side of business working in HR and someone who has also experienced unemployment discrimination first hand, it’s time I take a stand.  Eighty-two percent of our recruiting and human resource professionals surveyed as part of the Zero Unemployment Recruiting Trends survey agree that unemployment discrimination exists.  And 55% of those surveyed said that they have experienced resistance when presenting a qualified yet unemployed candidate to a hiring manager.

Yes, you read correctly.  Fifty-five percent.

The Zero Unemployment Movement is a viral effort that I’m passionated about and involved in.  The goal is to change the recruiting and hiring process for the better for both business and job seekers.  The recruiting and hiring process is broken.  It’s long and ineffective.  That’s why I’m encouraging you to join me in taking the pledge against Unemployment Discrimination.

We’ve created the first ever Facebook pledge so you can take a stand and pledge to end “Unemployment Discrimination.”  It’s very simple.  Visit our Facebook Pledge.  Take the pledge and help spread the message through tweets, share, and other social media channels.

Businesses should interview at least one unemployed candidate for every job opening. #zeroUE 

Thanks for supporting ZeroUE and the pledge to end unemployment discrimination.


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Chris Lewis says

    I was featured last week on a news report about this subject. It’s very frustrating, but I’m hopeful the right position will come my way soon.

    Thank you for sharing this subject!

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says


      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I know it is a frustrating and sometimes long process looking for work. What I have to remind myself is that moments and experiences like these that test our very being shape us into the people we are meant to be.


  2. Mike Lynch says

    I don’t have formal survey results to back this up, but just based on my daily experience as a career coach, I think this is a bigger issue when the hiring company is going through a recruiter. That 25%-35% fee can make a huge difference. I don’t doubt that it exists in non-recruiting situations as well, but see it less often. The answer obviously is keep networking, and help raise awareness through blogs like yours. Thanks for leading the charge.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says


      Thank you for your comment. I guess I’m not understanding how exactly the recruiting fee comes into play with your point of view. Companies bring in third party recruiters to do the trench work to find the A players in the business who are often not actively looking for work.

      For me there are two things that can help make a difference. The first is through adding jobs. Many companies are holding off hiring or bringing on temporary workers instead of making the commitment to hire a permanent workforce. The second is through providing awareness about who the unemployed job seeker actually is. They are your uncle, your sister, your friend, and your mother. I’ve laid off great people who did great work and had to deliver the message as HR. Knowing that decision makers are making lump judgements and tying what is a financial decision to the employee’s personal worth, professionalism, or capability.


      • Mike Lynch says

        Hi Jessica,

        I totally agree with what you’re saying in the second paragraph of your response. The unemployed job seeker is my client. There is a great need for increased awareness around this issue, and I applaud your efforts. And yes, we need employers who will add jobs.

        The point I was trying to make, perhaps poorly, is this. I see more cases of discrimination against the unemployed with companies who are paying a recruiter. So while we work to change bias, and advocate for more full time hiring, I continue to manage my clients expectations regarding recruiters, and push the value of networking.

        By the way, I believe we have a mutual friend in Jennifer McClure.

  3. Tarah says

    I think i will play devils advocate here 😉 Although I feel you have a very valid point in your message about unemployment Discrimination, I do see things from the recruiter perspective as well ( I work for an employment service agency that assists clients with these issues but I have been employed in the HR field for 4 years now and have interviewed and recruited well over 300 people in my time). I think HR practitioners look for the best qualified candidates for each job and they use varying criteria to determine this. for example, I recently had a job posting to which I received 700 applications for one position. I use my basic screening skills to look though all of the resumes ( to tell you the truth, the first glance at each resume lasts about 30 seconds). if i see basic critera i move to the “to be reviewed ” section. I then take the “to be reviewed” candidates and mark up their resumes ie: education questionable, number of years of experience, and also noting any gaps. If i have 100 base line qualified applications i start making cuts based on the above markings on the resume. I want the candidate with the most relevant experience, qualifications and abilities. Part of this is recent relevant experience. You could argue that any part of a selection process is discriminatory really. I do believe that unemployed job seekers need to be creative on ow to fill the unemployment gap ( and no im not suggesting to lie), If the applicant demonstrates that they are still utilizing their skills though training or volunteerism during their period of unemployment, i would most likely look more fondly on their application because they are continuing to use and improve their skills. thats my 10 cents 🙂



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