Barriers and Gaps in Employment History and Tips for Employers to Diversify Their Workforce


Individuals such as caregivers, older workers, disabled workers, and those who have criminal convictions or were recently released from prison have been historically marginalized and denied employment opportunities because of gaps in their employment history as well as biases against them. And these problems have only been made worse with the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are also valuable considerations employers should know when seeking employees for particular positions.1


The COVID-19 pandemic particularly hit caregivers hard. Many lost their jobs because of shutdowns and closures, but also because they may not have been able to work from home. Many caregivers, such as those who take care of disabled or sick family members or children whose schools closed, were required to leave their employment during the COVID shutdowns. This left a gap in their resume history and now that many caregivers are heading back to the workforce, employers typically inquire about the gap. This incidentally leads to the potential employee having to reveal they are a caretaker for a family member or children. In turn, this can create an inherent bias against the potential employee because the employer may believe they are not fully dedicated or reliable candidate. Thus, many talented and valuable employees are not being considered for positions. Employers should know, first of all, that these types of considerations are often violations of law and discriminatory. For example, Employers cannot consider being a mother or potential mother as a reason for denying a job to an otherwise qualified candidate. Once a person has said that he or she is a caregiver, the employer should not press for specific details.

Additionally, employers should be aware that caregivers bring to the table many unique talents and experiences. Caregivers gain related knowledge and skills that can transfer from caregiving to jobs, such as mothers becoming childcare professionals, or elderly caretakers becoming nurse assistants. Additionally, caregivers are often more patient, more detail oriented, and have learned how to speak up and be good advocates for others. They are also very resilient, have good time management skills, and are used to less time off from job duties.

Older Employees

Employers must also be aware that hiring policies that apply to everyone, but have a negative impact on applicants aged 40 or older can be illegal if it is not based on a non-age related factor. Many times, with the rapidly changing and technologically advancing hiring process, older candidates are filtered out by algorithms. Additionally, seemingly benign job descriptions such as “high-energy” or “fast-paced” also tend to cause older employees to not even bother applying because it is assumed the employer is looking for someone younger. And difficulties such as requiring new or specific resume formats, video resumes, or even requiring multiple online platforms, unintentionally turns-off older, more experienced, candidates.

Employers should consider what older potential employees bring to the table. They often have better work ethic, more professionalism and patience, more extensive life experiences, are better able to manage and coach younger employees, and have better relational awareness with others. They also have skills acquired over time such as “tacit knowledge.” More specifically, where explicit knowledge is easy to transmit to any employee (almost like reading and following a bread recipe), tacit knowledge is a skill learned over time (such as when it is best to stop kneading the dough or how to deal with humidity for the bread recipe). While employers should not ask a candidate’s age and should be careful not to use language screening out older people, they should also be careful not to discriminate based on an interview.


It is also illegal to consider someone’s disability as a reason not to hire them, assuming that they can do the job with or without accommodations. Many employers immediately become concerned if a candidate for a position has a disability. Not just because it can be visually concerning or causes them to speculate about future medical difficulties, but sometimes employers are afraid a disability may affect costs and disrupt business practices. Additionally, many people have a fear of individuals with mental health disabilities and worry that hiring them may create a liability or that the employee will be less reliable. Disabled individuals also may have gaps in employment because of periods of treatment, which often take long periods of time. Unfortunately, when employers ask about the gap in employment history, it naturally (and unintentionally) creates a situation in which the candidate must reveal their otherwise invisible disability. In turn, this creates a bias that was not necessarily there at the beginning of the interview. Again, if a candidate cites to medical issues as a reason for a gap in employment, the employer should not press about the cause of the medical problem, leaving open the question of whether it is a disability unless the candidate volunteers the information or asks for an accommodation.

Disabled individuals also bring a lot of abilities to the table that employers should be aware of. Disabled employees may be more careful not to injure themselves and to follow directions carefully. They may also solve more problems beforehand because they are used to planning ahead, such as ensuring they have adequate transportation or making sure they leave early so as not to be late. Disabled employees also tend to deal with a lot more difficulties on a daily basis and as such may not complain as much as other employees about menial concerns. They also may inspire other employees, or at least influence other employees not to complain about minor discomforts.

Prior Criminal History

It is legal for employees to consider an individual’s criminal history when evaluating them for a job, though there are laws that limit when and how employers can inquire about this. But generally, employers have the right to do background checks. Consequently, it is usually difficult for individuals with criminal records to get good jobs. It is even more difficult for those who have been recently released from prison; and it is obvious that prison and jail sentences create gaps in employment history. Employers also are aware that individuals on probation may have to show up late or leave early to meet with their probation officer, or that their probation officer may have to show up at work from time to time, which can be embarrassing.

Employers should be patient and understanding that these potential employees will have a difficult time finding a job. Employers should consider that many individuals with criminal history have learned trades and skills while serving prison sentences. Additionally, the job hunt for them is much more arduous and so they tend to be more dedicated and loyal when they finally land a job because they may feel as though their employer sees value in them as well as not wanting to go through the rigors of another job hunt. Employers may want to consider what types of criminal history would or would not be a barrier to employment.

What Employers Who Want to be More Inclusive Should Do

The beneficial reasons for each listed group above should be considered by all employers in the hiring process. For those employers who seek to diversify their workforce, they should consider removing filters in the online application process. Every person is a human being and should be seen not by their age, criminal record, or employment history, but also for who they are generally. Therefore, remove early background checks, criminal history, and date of births from the early application process and remove “must be able to lift” and “nice to have” statements in job descriptions if they are not really relevant. Try to remove AI from the hiring process because algorithms cannot judge the content and quality of an individual’s character. Do not try to hire new employees based only on similarities to current employees. Always leave some room for training and adaptability. And don’t dedicate your efforts to finding someone who matches the description exactly, but rather give employees who lack some of the requirements a chance to make up for it by bringing new perspectives and skills to the workforce.


1 On April 28, 2020, the EEOC held a roundtable discussion entitled Untapped Potential: Reimagining Equity for Workers with Gaps in Employment History. The discussion focused on analyzing barriers to individuals who have been out of the workforce due to caregiver obligations, age, disabilities, and incarceration. Much of the information in this post was drawn from that discussion.

Featured Image by Rebecca Sidebotham.

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations