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    CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS AND EMPLOYMENT

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    On Monday, June 10, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that will encourage employers to fully consider all job applicants without ruling people out because of possible criminal background. The purpose of the law is to give the opportunity for applicants to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated and secure employment, instead of being automatically relegated to being part of a permanent underclass. The law keeps safeguards currently in place that protects businesses from violent criminals, dishonesty or unsafe employees. No employer will be required to hire a person with a criminal background.

    The legislation will prohibit employers from automatically excluding individuals with any arrest or conviction record from consideration for employment. While employers may inquire about an individual’s criminal history after they have completed an initial screening to eliminate unqualified applicants, they may not reject a qualified applicant solely based on their criminal record unless they have:

    • Identified to the employee or applicant the record or information on which they are basing their employment decision;
    • Provided the applicant or employee a reasonable opportunity to explain or correct the information and held the position open for a minimum of two business days after notifying the applicant or employee to give them a meaningful opportunity to respond; and
    • A “legitimate business reason” for making the employment decision.

    Almost 20% of adults in our society have criminal records for various reasons. Most of these are minor convictions, often at a young age, and sometimes exist because a plea bargain is an easier path to take even if a person is innocent. The vast majority of these people are seeking to reenter society, to get a job and become productive members of the community. If they cannot, then falling back into criminal activity may become an easier way to survive. This legislation promotes the healing process and protects public safety by helping people overcome their histories.

    When the law was first introduced, I strongly supported the concept, but was concerned about the difficulties businesses could have with the way the law was originally designed. It could have been costly and complicated to implement, undermined an employer’s ability to make the right hiring decisions, and caused unnecessary legal exposure.

    Fortunately, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who initiated this proposal, worked for many months to bring together advocates and business representatives to address these issues. The legislation ultimately approved by the Council struck a good balance between helping individuals who have made mistakes and helping employers do the right thing for their businesses.

    Changes included eliminating the opportunity for an applicant to sue an employer if they are turned down; adjusting the timing for when an employer can ask for criminal background information; more clearly identifying the criteria for turning down an applicant; eliminating a lengthy form describing why a business declined an applicant; convening a panel of stakeholders, including employers, to develop oversight guidelines; and creating an evaluation mechanism to evaluate the enforcement process after the first six months.

    While the Chamber and other business organizations would have preferred a few additional amendments, they remain at the table with the advocates and will work to make this legislation effective. Their representatives embraced the goals of the legislation and are committed to try to make it work as well as possible.

    This legislation is a great step forward for our community. Our commitment to social justice calls us to care about all of our people and help those who have made missteps and want to put their lives back together as responsible employees and residents. Businesses must be able to assist with this while retaining their ability to run their businesses and create the job opportunities that will further our mutual prosperity. The effective negotiations and thoughtful revisions to this legislation are a model for how we can bring those goals together. Councilmember Harrell deserves congratulations for managing this effectively and creating legislation that will strengthen Seattle.

    On Monday, June 10, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that will encourage employers to fully consider all job applicants without ruling people out because of possible criminal background. The purpose of the law is to give the opportunity for applicants to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated and secure employment, instead of being automatically relegated to being part of a permanent underclass. The law keeps safeguards currently in place that protects businesses from violent criminals, dishonesty or unsafe employees. No employer will be required to hire a person with a criminal background.

    The legislation will prohibit employers from automatically excluding individuals with any arrest or conviction record from consideration for employment. While employers may inquire about an individual’s criminal history after they have completed an initial screening to eliminate unqualified applicants, they may not reject a qualified applicant solely based on their criminal record unless they have:

    n  Identified to the employee or applicant the record or information on which they are basing their employment decision;

    n  Provided the applicant or employee a reasonable opportunity to explain or correct the information and held the position open for a minimum of two business days after notifying the applicant or employee to give them a meaningful opportunity to respond; and

    n  A “legitimate business reason” for making the employment decision.

    Almost 20% of adults in our society have criminal records for various reasons. Most of these are minor convictions, often at a young age, and sometimes exist because a plea bargain is an easier path to take even if a person is innocent. The vast majority of these people are seeking to reenter society, to get a job and become productive members of the community. If they cannot, then falling back into criminal activity may become an easier way to survive. This legislation promotes the healing process and protects public safety by helping people overcome their histories.

    When the law was first introduced, I strongly supported the concept, but was concerned about the difficulties businesses could have with the way the law was originally designed. It could have been costly and complicated to implement, undermined an employer’s ability to make the right hiring decisions, and caused unnecessary legal exposure.

    Fortunately, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who initiated this proposal, worked for many months to bring together advocates and business representatives to address these issues. The legislation ultimately approved by the Council struck a good balance between helping individuals who have made mistakes and helping employers do the right thing for their businesses.

    Changes included eliminating the opportunity for an applicant to sue an employer if they are turned down; adjusting the timing for when an employer can ask for criminal background information; more clearly identifying the criteria for turning down an applicant; eliminating a lengthy form describing why a business declined an applicant; convening a panel of stakeholders, including employers, to develop oversight guidelines; and creating an evaluation mechanism to evaluate the enforcement process after the first six months.

    While the Chamber and other business organizations would have preferred a few additional amendments, they remain at the table with the advocates and will work to make this legislation effective. Their representatives embraced the goals of the legislation and are committed to try to make it work as well as possible.

    This legislation is a great step forward for our community. Our commitment to social justice calls us to care about all of our people and help those who have made missteps and want to put their lives back together as responsible employees and residents. Businesses must be able to assist with this while retaining their ability to run their businesses and create the job opportunities that will further our mutual prosperity. The effective negotiations and thoughtful revisions to this legislation are a model for how we can bring those goals together. Councilmember Harrell deserves congratulations for managing this effectively and creating legislation that will strengthen Seattle.

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