Del. Elizabeth Guzman proposes no discrimination for workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

PRINCE WILLIAM – If you were an employer, what would you do if a potential employee presented a resume with a year-long employment history gap?

Sure, you might have some questions. But as long as the answers checked out, would you give that employee a chance?

That’s a question Del. Elizabeth Guzman hopes to answer with future legislation. During the COVID-19 crisis, millions of Americans either quit or lost their jobs due to the pandemic. From Feb. 2020 to Feb. 2021, the Virginia Employment Commission estimated that establishments in Virginia lost 197,300 jobs, a decrease of 4.8%.

“Unfortunately, you know, as a hiring manager, I have seen that the people who are out of work for longer periods of time are less likely to be hired than people who are out of work for shorter periods of time,” Guzman said.

Compounding Issues

In Feb., American Progress revealed that women lost a net of 5.4 million jobs during the pandemic-induced recession, compared to 4.4 million lost by men.

“You also have the fact that women are more vulnerable to that economic impact from COVID-19 because of existing gender inequalities,” Elizabeth Guzman said.

The pandemic itself brought about the loss of many in-person job opportunities. However, for others, the lack of internet accessibility in some parts of the country – and state – caused issues. Some folks that could’ve worked from home lost opportunities due to unstable or nonexistent connectivity.

“There are so many things that, I think, laid [out] for me the issue as I’m traveling the commonwealth and just learning the struggles that working women have in general,” Guzman said. “And some of them that I have lived myself.”

As a mother, Guzman noted the intricacies between the work-life balance that many parents face.

In her own personal situation, Elizabeth Guzman and her mother live in the same household. While Guzman works, her mother often helps care for the needs of the delegate’s children. But even with an additional set of loving hands at home, balancing the new normal isn’t always easy.

“It’s challenging. You’ve probably seen in the legislation as well, that sometimes in the legislature, that we were, like, in committee meetings, but would have to walk out to make sure that our children are connected,” Guzman said. “So how many people, number one, had the advantages to have a support system at home, to work from home and be a support system for their children? It’s stressful, I can tell you, and it could be challenging.”

The Best Choice

For some parents, working a job and being a responsible parent became an either-or option. When schools closed, many parents had their hands tied. Either they gave up their source of income, or they left small children at home unattended.

Surprisingly, there are no laws in Virginia that designate an age or length of time for a child to stay home alone.

Working with other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, Fairfax County developed supervision guidelines for parents and caretakers. The county provides guidelines for five age groups.

In the first age group, Fairfax County suggests leaving no child under the age of eight alone.

“Children this age should never be left unsupervised in homes, cars, playgrounds or yards,” the official Fairfax County webpage reads.

Children ages nine and 10 may remain unsupervised for up to one and a half hours during daylight and early evening hours. The time guidelines double for children ages 11 and 12.

When a child reaches his or her early teens, her or she could be ready for no supervision for more than three hours, but not overnight. At 16 years of age and older, teens may remain unsupervised overnight for one to two days, with a plan in place.

However, each family and each child differ from the next. Last March, many Virginia families made the best choice for their family – but the ultimate decision didn’t have the same outcome for everyone.

“How many people had to make the hard choice and say, ‘You know what? It’s not working for me. I cannot be a good mom. I cannot be a good worker. So let me just quit my job. I can’t do this,’” Guzman said.

For many, the priority became clear – and the family’s income came second.

In Her Shoes

Although Elizabeth Guzman and her mother worked together to care for the delegate’s children so that Guzman could continue her career and political commitments, she was no stranger to the struggles parents faced in the pandemic.

Years ago, Guzman faced a similar choice following a difficult pregnancy with her youngest child.

“I had to quit my job. I had to stay home until she was nine months old,” Guzman said. “It was hard.”

That wasn’t the only difficult part about that time in Guzman’s life. Jumping back in the workforce after her time at home also presented challenges.

“It was hard, after being out of work for a year, trying to find employment,” Guzman said.

Equipped with the unique knowledge of life experience, Guzman set out to change the circumstances for others. Eventually, she hopes to pass legislation that will ban employers from discriminating against potential employees with gaps in their employment history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For me, as the first woman to [potentially] ever serve as the lieutenant governor, I wanted to be a champion for women in the senate because women have left the workforce in staggering numbers to care for their families, and their careers should not be penalized for that,” Guzman said.

The delegate further noted that the legislation would not only apply to women, but to all genders. If Gov. Ralph Northam calls for a Special Session, Guzman plans to present the legislation. Otherwise, it’s something the candidate hopes to bring the floor, should she win her bid for the lieutenant governor seat.

A Word to Employers

If she had an opportunity to sit down with employers, there’s a couple ideas Guzman would offer, when it comes to recognizing potential resume gaps due to COVID.

First, she noted that many employers use modern systems to screen employees.

“I would tell them [to] try to use this technology to try to help people,” Guzman said.

The delegate suggested adding a question to the application, asking potential employees if their unemployment originated out of the COVID crisis.

“I think it is an opportunity as a hiring manager to [do] the right thing and help the person, or help those individuals who were [affected],” Guzman said. “And this was a national pandemic and crisis, where nobody planned to be out of work. But we need to understand that unfortunately, you know, not all of the organizations had systems in place to allow their employees to telework, that not everybody in Virginia has access to the internet, so telework was not an option for them.”

She also circled back to the parents, who needed to stay home with their children.

“That should not disqualify you to be a good employee,” Guzman said. “I would ask them to do the right thing and give these individuals a chance to recover their careers.”

As new employers establish – and established employers build up – their workforce coming out of COVID, Guzman encouraged equal employment opportunities.

“I would say that this is the right thing to do. That people should not be penalized for quitting their jobs for taking care of themselves or a family member,” Guzman said. “If they have the experience, if they have the qualification requirements, that it is the right thing to do.”

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com