The Seattle City Council today unanimously approved a bill that would prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history until after an initial screening. Employers could reject an applicant because of a criminal record, but only if there is a legitimate business reason to do so.
The measure was strongly opposed by some business groups, including the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which said they didn’t want the city second-guessing their hiring decisions. They also opposed a provision that will allow the city Office of Human Rights to investigate complaints by job applicants who believe they were turned down solely because of their criminal history.
Advocates, including City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who sponsored the bill, noted that 50 cities and 8 states have banned the check-off box on job applications that asks whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime.
Harrell said the bill will remove barriers to jobs and create pathways to re-entry and success for ex-convicts.
Under the Seattle measure, employers could ask about criminal history after an initial screening to eliminate unqualified candidates. Applicants would have two business days after being turned down to correct any misinformation on their record or explain the circumstances of a conviction.
Advocates also argued that people who have served their criminal sentence should be given a second chance to rebuild their lives. They said that people with jobs were much less likely to commit new crimes.