Don't Have A 'Stable Work History'? These Employers Don't Want You

stable work historyJob ads that list "current employment" as a requirement are becoming less common, thanks to a chorus of outrage, and laws declaring it illegal discrimination in several states. But some employers seem to be adopting a new approach -- requiring applicants to have "a stable work history" -- which may, in essence, serve the same purpose: To weed out the unemployed.

The Porter Group, a sales management recruiting firm with $3.4 million in revenue (as of 2008) and offices in New Jersey and Maryland, has over three dozen ads on its job listing board that mention "stability" as a requirement, from "stable experience" and "very stable work history," to "must be stable" and "STABLE." One of the ads says bluntly that only "currently employed" workers should apply, but the other ads stress stability. For example:

Well funded, research driven Pharmaceutical Company seeks a sales representative with 2+ years of documented, STABLE success in Business-to-Business sales for a Baltimore and Annapolis territory. Sell established products! Opportunity is open due to recent promotions. Qualified candidates MUST have a 4-year degree and stable work history.

Stable employees are better workers?: In an interview with AOL Jobs, James Porter, the CEO of the Porter Group, said that his clients -- employers that he wouldn't identify -- wanted him to include this language. He defended "stable work history" as a way to screen out job-hoppers. Employers "want to see people who are going to be part of the company, and grow with the company," says Porter. "They're going to spend a lot of time training them."

More:4 Million Openings: Too Many Employers Await Ideal Candidate

He acknowledged that it might also work to weed out applicants who have had a bout of unemployment. If a sales person has been laid off, he explains, there's a good chance that they weren't on top of their game. "What company in their right mind is going to lay off the top seller? ... They're going to let their weaker performers go first."

It's all over the place: This isn't just a requirement in the technical-sales field. Nor is it just directed at execs -- or entry-level workers. A search through ads shows that giant companies across industries are using similar language when hiring for all sorts of positions:
  • An ad for ashift supervisor position in Warrenton, Miss., at Papa John's, the $1.5 billion pizza delivery chain asks applicants to have an employment history that is "stable and successful."
  • Baker Hughes, a leading oil services company, is looking for a electrical assembler in Claremore, OK, with one or two years of experience, and "a stable work history."
  • A stable work history is even listed as a qualification for an entry-level call-center job in Tempe, Ariz., at the country's largest bank, JPMorgan Chase.

JPMorgan, Papa John's, and Baker Hughes did not respond to requests for comment.

"It's tough because employers have a good reason to want" someone who isn't a job hopper, says workplace consultant and AOL Jobs contributor J.T. O'Donnell. "Training costs so much money, and you want someone to stay put. An employer's greatest fear is to lose talent."

But, she adds, requiring a stable work history can "discriminate against candidates who could be great, but had some bad luck." Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers, agrees. "There are a lot of bumps in the road that have nothing to do with their qualifications for the job," Emsellem says. "That's where this kind of language can create a real problem."

Another way to say "unemployed need not apply"?: Many studies have shown that the long-term unemployed are widely discriminated against in hiring. In response to the problem, the states of New Jersey and Oregon and the District of Columbia have banned discrimination against the unemployed in job ads. But this protection doesn't extend to the subject of work history.

More:Employer Explains Why He Won't Hire The Unemployed

Last month, a much further-reaching New York law went into effect, banning employers from having any job requirement that could disparately impact the unemployed, unless the employer can demonstrate that the requirement is substantially job-related. A "very stable work history" could very possibly fall into that category, according to Emsellem.

For while certain skills and years of experience in a particular field are relevant requirements for a position, it's not as obvious how "stable work history" is a bonafide qualification.

"There may be some job where it's absolutely critical that they have a stable work history, whatever that means," says Emsellem. "But what jobs are those exactly? What are we talking about?"

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