The short answer—yes, at least right now.

Unemployment rates continue to rise resulting in more out-of-work individuals searching for employment and having a difficult time finding work.  Earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a meeting examining employers’ treatment of unemployed candidates.  During the meeting, Christine Owens of National Employment Law Project testified that various employers are blatantly discriminating against unemployed job seekers.  As reported by Adam Cohen in Jobless Discrimination? When Firms Won’t Even Consider Hiring Anyone Unemployed, some companies have posted job announcements specifically stating “no unemployment candidates will be considered at all.”

Is it illegal to exclude unemployed individuals?  No, at least not yet.  Under federal law, employers are prohibited from discriminating against applicants based on age, disability, race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  But employers can refuse to hire a candidate based on job status.

That may all change if the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 (H.R. 2501), introduced earlier this month becomes law.  The bill would make it illegal for employers to refuse to hire a person because of employment status.

Regardless of the bill’s passage into law, employers are best advised to make employment decisions based on the most qualified individual and not exclude individuals based simply on their employment status.