- Employers were 14% less likely to call back job applicants who lived a long distance from the workplace than applicants who lived closer, according to a correspondence study conducted by University of Notre Dame researchers.
- Led by economics professor David Phillips, researchers submitted false applications for low-paying jobs in the Washington, D.C., area. They sent out more than 2,200 fake resumes with real local addresses from diverse areas. For every job posting, researchers selected addresses representing people with the same educational, economic and ethnic background. The results, published in The Journal of Human Resources, showed that callback rates decreased by 1.1 percentage points for every mile away applicants lived from the job site, accounting for similar levels of neighborhood affluence.
- In the study's abstract, Phillips said that living five to six miles away from a job site results in a callback rate penalty similar to that of those who have "stereotypically black names." But the study found no evidence for penalties on the basis of neighborhood affluence.
While federal law doesn't explicitly prohibit discrimination based on address, there are clear prohibitions on discrimination based on other characteristics, such as race, religion, national origin and age. And even when employers make decisions based on criteria that appears neutral, those decisions can have a disparate impact on individuals in protected classes.
Questions have been raised, for example, about employers that recruit primarily in certain locations over others — like college campuses. That's the focus of a recent lawsuit filed against PwC, in which older applicants alleged that the company's use of campus recruiting and school-affiliated job sites amounted to a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Additionally, processes that screen out applicants from certain zip codes, for example, can amount to race discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says in its Compliance Manual.
Instead of focusing on an applicant's address, employers would be well-advised to focus on his or her ability to perform the job. If the job requires the employee to arrive at a set time, that may be a reasonable requirement to communicate to all applicants.
And as more employees demand flexibility, addresses may become less of an issue. Long commutes rank among the highest stressors faced by workers, next to bad bosses and unclear goals, and more employers are realizing that flexible arrangements are a "must have" for many. Some jobs may never be right for telework, but even retail industry workers said in a recent study that they value flexible work schedules. Employers that are willing to accommodate workers' preferences may well reap the rewards in engagement and retention.