Executive Job Search: Is NUNA (No Unemployed Need Apply) Illegal?

by Meg Guiseppi on March 3, 2011

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a hearing last week to discuss whether refusing to hire unemployed people is illegal.

Abigail Field described what constitutes illegal discrimination in her Daily Finance article, Unemployed Need Not Apply: Is It Illegal to Refuse to Consider Hiring the Jobless?

“The discrimination has to be against a “protected class” – a group that has suffered discrimination based on a status it can’t change, like gender, race or age – or shouldn’t be forced to change, like religion. Some states protect additional groups, but the EEOC enforces federal law, so that was the hearing’s focus.”

One set of experts testified that it probably is illegal – against two protected classes: non-white workers and workers over 40 years old.

An opposing set of experts testified that it’s legal, but cited statistics that weren’t comparable to their opposition’s.

Either way, NUNA is an unfair practice that exists, according to my research and discussions with other career professionals. This seemingly growing tide is impacting a lot of people at a very challenging time in their lives.

In conclusion, Field stated:

“At a time of high unemployment, the jobless include many talented, high quality workers. Employment status these days is a particularly poor proxy for worker quality. Let’s hope the practice – to whatever extent it exists – quickly ends. And if it doesn’t, here’s hoping some class action lawsuits – or EEOC action – puts a stop to it.”

In a LinkedIn Group discussion about the article, one career professional cautioned:

“I haven’t seen any evidence of [NUNA] – but to me, the relevant fact is that employers usually WILL NOT pay a recruiter or headhunter for an unemployed candidate.

So our clients need to understand this, and will benefit from investing their energies in uncovering potential work needs rather than expecting that recruiters will place them.”

Related posts:

Will Employment Gaps Hurt My Executive Job Search?

How To Land an Executive Job in 2011

Executive Job Search: Research Your Target Employers

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Meg Guiseppi March 28, 2011 at 11:03 am

You make a great point, Candace. Many best-fit candidates are probably being overlooked because they happen to be unemployed at the moment — most likely through no fault of their own.

Thanks for commenting!

2 Candace Barr March 28, 2011 at 7:00 am

I spent years at a high end, boutique executive search firm as the VP of Research. It was my job to find some of the very best candidates for our open searchs – and I can tell you NUNA most certainly exists. It’s always been unfair, and in my opinion, hurt the search by not including some excellent executives, simply because they were unemployed. Great article, thank you.

3 Meg Guiseppi March 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Melissa.

It really is a shame that employers can get away with NUNA, particularly in times like these when it’s difficult enough for employed people to stay above water, let alone find a job.


4 Melissa Cooley March 8, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Nice post, Meg.

NUNA has never been right, even though companies have been doing it for quite a while. But to continue the practice (and to be so open about it, at time) during the recent period of high unemployment seems particularly callous.

I also wanted to add that a third protected class that has been disproportionately affected by the current economic climate and this practice is people with disabilities.

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