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Obama proposes update to employment discrimination laws

President Barack Obama has proposed changes to federal laws that would affect how employers can decide who they hire. The changes, which could potentially have a large impact in Colorado, would make discrimination against someone who is unemployed illegal.

The goal would be to impact the job market for the better, because as it stands, some employers refuse to hire unemployed workers. The changes would give unsuccessful job applicants the right to sue for damages, just as they could if they were discriminated against on other grounds. Currently, applicants can only sue for discrimination on the basis of a few commonly-known categories. Those categories include race, sex, national origin and religion.

President Obama addressed the issue in a radio interview last month, pointing out that in a recession where many people have been laid off through no fault of their own, it makes no sense to discriminate against them for being unemployed. Others claimed this discrimination was not common enough to justify expanding the federal rules to encompass it. Critics believe amending the law could subject employers to needless turmoil.

One outstanding issue for employers is that a change in the laws could mean a larger potential for lawsuits, even for those employers who are adhering to the law to the best of their abilities. With new rules, new reporting requirements could arise. A more complete paper trail documenting hiring decisions could be necessary to defend against frivolous lawsuits. It is possible that some employers will end up as victims of unwarranted litigation, should the legal changes go into effect.

Source: The New York Times, "Obama Proposes Protecting Unemployed Against Hiring Bias," Robert Pear, Sep 26, 2011

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