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WASHINGTON – During an online roundtable today held by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, panelists discussed challenges workers face as they reenter the workforce after periods of unemployment.

The “Untapped Potential: Reimagining Equity for Workers with Gaps in Employment History” roundtable is part of the Hiring Initiative to Reimagine Equity initiative, a joint effort by the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the EEOC. Panelists included Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director, Jenny R. Yang; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair, Charlotte A. Burrows; Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Eve Hill; President of Mission: Launch, Teresa Y. Hodge; A Better Balance Vice President, Elizabeth Gedmark; and the American Association of Retired Persons’ Senior Advisor for Financial Resilience, Heather Tinsley-Fix.

“As our country makes major investments in our infrastructure, and we rebuild from the pandemic, we have a critical opportunity to ensure everyone has a chance to contribute to America’s economy,” said Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Jenny R. Yang. “At today’s roundtable, we explored the wealth of talent that is often hidden from employers by hiring screens that exclude highly qualified workers simply because of a period of unemployment. We explored key strategies for employers to expand opportunity to good jobs by ensuring job-related criteria is the foundation of the hiring process.”

“Workers who have experienced periods of unemployment are an often-overlooked talent pool with a great deal to contribute to our society, and they can be a serious boon to employers seeking to fulfill today’s staffing needs,” said Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “They are diverse, and many are from groups that have been historically marginalized in the workplace or denied opportunity because of discrimination. They are caregivers, older workers, disabled persons and formerly incarcerated community members who offer valuable job skills. Giving equal consideration to all candidates regardless of resume gaps is one-way employers can promote our nation’s values and sustain a diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible workplace.”

“Almost everything employers ‘know’ about applicants with an employment history gap is wrong,” said Board of Trustees Chair Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and Partner, Brown, Goldstein & Levy Eve Hill. “It’s time to rethink the assumptions we still carry from the work world of the past, so we can attract the best talent in today’s world.”

“For businesses to grow they will need to attract and retain a diverse talent pool,” said President of Mission: Launch Teresa Y. Hodge. This diversity going forward will include people with gaps in their employment history for various reasons. The opportunity to learn and grow as a person exists both internal and external to the workplace.”

“Workers who have gaps on their resumes due to caregiving or pregnancy should not face discrimination when looking for a new job, especially as the pandemic has forced family members to care for loved ones in the face of unprecedented illness and school closures,” said A Better Balance Vice President Elizabeth Gedmark. “Workers who dropped out, or were pushed out, of the workplace, disproportionately mothers and people of color, deserve a fair shot and to be recognized for the many skills and values learned during their time away from the paid labor market.”

“American Association of Retired Persons is pleased to contribute to this effort to break down barriers and build equity for groups of workers that are often overlooked or ignored,” said American Association of Retired Persons’ Senior Advisor Financial Resilience Heather Tinsley-Fix. “Older workers bring high levels of engagement, productivity and soft skills to the table, yet age discrimination remains distressingly common. In 2020, AARP research revealed that 78 percent of workers over 40 had seen or experienced age discrimination at work. Research shows that organizations benefit from a multigenerational workforce, and that age should be part of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.”

A recording of today’s roundtable will be available on EEOC’s YouTube channel.

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