Earlier this month, House of Representatives members Rosa DeLauro and Hank Johnson, introduced The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011, H.R. 2501.  Given the sustained high unemployment rate, this legislation serves to prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating against applicants based on their history of unemployment.  If this bill is enacted, it will be unlawful for employers to refuse to offer employment to an individual based on his or her status as unemployed.  Similarly, an employment agency may not use an individual's unemployment status as a factor to screen-out or not refer an individual to an employer.  Employment agencies are also not allowed to "limit, segregate, or classify" individuals based on their unemployment status, which would in turn limit their access to job opportunities.  In addition, employers and employment agencies may not include in advertisements for job opportunities that one's status as unemployed will disqualify him or her from the job.

An employer or employment agency may consider an individual's unemployment status when issuing an offer of employment only when it is a bona fide occupational qualification.  Meaning, that the job must require an employment history in a "similar or related job" for a certain period of time. 

The Act has a retaliation provision, making it unlawful for employers and employment agencies to refuse to hire, to discharge, or to interfere with any rights under the Act because an individual opposed unlawful practices; instituted a proceeding; cooperated with an investigation; or testified in a proceeding relating to any right under the Act.    

If an employer or employment agency is in violation of the Act, it will be liable for any lost wages, salary, or employment benefits.  Alternatively, if there is no loss in wages or salary, employers and employment agencies may be issued a civil penalty of $1,000 per violation per day or held liable for any monetary losses incurred by the individual.  However, if an employer acted in good faith, but still violated the Act, it is in the court's discretion to decrease its liability.