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The COVID-19 recession has further entrenched existing racial disparities in the job market and has disproportionately left Black and brown workers unemployed.

As a professor of human resources and labor relations, I urge the Connecticut General Assembly to address this crisis by enacting “worker recall” legislation. Research shows that this legislation, which requires employers to rehire workers based on tenure and qualifications once jobs return, can help create a more equitable economic recovery by limiting the role that implicit biases play in rehiring decisions. The objective criteria this policy requires employers to follow can give marginalized workers a fair chance to recover jobs that they earned through trainings, skills development, and dedication.

While job loss has been universal, it has particularly devastated workers of color. The University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Policy found that during the peak of the pandemic, in April 2020, Latinos had the highest unemployment rate at nearly 19%, followed by Black workers at 16.4%. Whites had the lowest unemployment level at approximately 13%. As businesses reopened in the late summer, unemployment rates among white workers quickly fell, dropping down below 10% in July. However, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey painted a different picture for Black workers, whose unemployment rate fell at a slower pace. By August, the white unemployment rate was 7.3%; for Black workers, it was 13%.

Without strong protections, there is a risk that these patterns of disparity will continue when managers choose which workers to recall from layoffs. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that racial gaps have already begun to emerge. Over the course of the pandemic, a higher percentage of white workers were called back to work each month compared to Black workers. Racial and gender disparities are present in hiring, promotion, and retention decisions. These disparities are often a result of implicit, unintentional cognitive biases. Such biases mean that when managers are left to their unfettered discretion, they may unconsciously allow stereotyping, in-group preference, or other forms of bias to influence their decision-making. Social psychological literature indicates that managerial decisions will often reproduce outcomes that systematically benefit already-privileged social groups if personnel policies do not take implicit biases into account.

Recall legislation has the potential to reduce discrimination against disadvantaged workers and communities, thereby improving economic outcomes. It would help improve managerial decision-making by imposing objective criteria and incorporating accountability. As a result, recall practices could create greater opportunities and more equitable workplaces for ethnic and racial minorities and women. This outcome would allow employers to retain control over major rehiring decisions, like denying employment to unqualified applicants, while giving a fair chance to Black and brown workers to recover positions that they earned.

According to research conducted by the University of Minnesota, Connecticut has some of the highest levels of income inequality and racial segregation in the country. By passing worker recall legislation, the Connecticut General Assembly can help steer the state towards a more equitable recovery.

Sean Edmund Rogers is the Spachman Professor of Human Resources and Labor Relations and Executive Director of Inclusive Excellence at the University of Rhode Island College of Business.

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