[author: Beth Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor]
This year National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week is November 10-18, 2012. To recognize this week, a number of schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness around the United States.
While most states and cities do not specifically prohibit employment discrimination against the homeless in particular, employers should be aware that such discrimination is widespread. Further, employers should exercise extreme caution if discriminating against individuals based on housing status as individuals in protected classes such as those with disabilities, racial minorities or veterans may be adversely affected.
Further, employers should be aware that just recently, Rhode Island passed the first law in the US prohibiting employers from discriminating against homeless individuals. The Homeless Bill of Rights prevents employers from treating individuals unfairly based on their housing status and essentially creates a new protected class under employment discrimination laws. 2012 R.I. ALS 316; 2012 R.I. ALS 356; +2011 Bill Text RI H.B. 7173; +2011 Bill Tracking RI H.B. 7173; +2011 Bill Text RI S.B. 2052; +2011 Bill Tracking RI S.B. 2052. Rhode Island employers should therefore amend their workplace policies and practices with regard to discrimination, retaliation and harassment as well as provide training on this new law.
As a best practice, employers in all jurisdictions should make sure that their employment policies and hiring practices do not unjustifiably discriminate against the homeless. Employers may want to avoid asking for a home address and request a mailing address instead in employment applications and new hire paperwork. Employers should not discriminate against individuals based on hygiene reasons especially if the employer knows that the employee's living quarters prevent him or her from maintaining optimal cleanliness. See How to Deal With an Employee Who Has a Hygiene Issue. Further, employers should work together with their communities to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness and work to eradicate discrimination against homeless individuals.
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Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination: Rhode Island
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