Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

July 24, 2013

Connecticut has joined its neighboring state of Rhode Island in enacting legislation, the Homeless Person's Bill of Rights (S.B. 896), effective October 1, 2013, that specifically designates the homeless as a protected class for purposes of employment discrimination. Connecticut employers are, therefore, advised to review and update their workplace policies and procedures to include nondiscrimination provisions for homeless job applicants and employees to ensure they receive equal employment opportunities. In addition, all supervisors and individuals with hiring and management responsibilities should be trained in the requirements of the new law.

The new law guarantees that the rights, privacy and property of homeless persons are adequately safeguarded and protected. As part of this, all homeless persons are to be provided with equal opportunities for employment as well as receive equal treatment by state and municipal agencies. It follows the federal definition of homeless person, which includes any individual who lacks a regular and primary nighttime residence and/or lives in a shelter. The new law also protects the homeless by guaranteeing their right to move freely in public places, receive emergency medical care and vote, among other things.

Employers should recognize that homelessness is currently a widespread situation for many individuals and families due to the recent incidence of devastating hurricanes, tornadoes and forest fires throughout the US. Further, discriminating against applicants and employees based on housing status can have a negative impact on individuals in protected classes such as those with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, those with criminal records, or veterans who may be adversely affected. The following tips will help employers ensure that their actions are not misconstrued as discriminatory:

  • Avoid asking for a home address and request a mailing address instead in employment applications and new hire paperwork.
  • Refrain from negatively stereotyping applicants or employees who are homeless.
  • Be cautious about discriminating against an individual regarding their personal hygiene as the employee's living quarters may prevent him or her from maintaining optimal cleanliness.
  • Raise awareness within the workforce and strive to eradicate discrimination by conducting charitable activities involving the homeless.
  • Provide medical or housing resources and assistance for homeless employees.