In June 2013, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the Jobs Assistance Ordinance to ensure that individuals with a criminal background have a fair shot at finding employment. This ordinance increases public safety and serves the entire community by giving people who are reentering society after being incarcerated the opportunity to find jobs, obtain stable housing, and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
The Jobs Assistance Ordinance provides guidelines around when an employer in the City of Seattle can use criminal convictions to make hiring decisions. Previously it was legal for employers to directly ask on an application whether a person has a criminal background. Marking “yes” in that checkbox often meant that employers would not consider the applicant or take the time to find out if they were a qualified candidate.
What does the Jobs Assistance Ordinance do?
Essentially the ordinance will “ban the box,” meaning that job applications cannot ask whether you have an arrest or conviction record. Employers must wait to ask about previous criminal records until after there has been an initial screening or interview. Also, arrest records cannot be used to deny employment, as there is no conviction to indicate that the person was actually guilty of the crime.
In addition, employers can no longer advertise a job or use hiring practices that automatically exclude individuals who have a criminal record. For example, Seattle employers cannot advertise in a job posting “no criminal backgrounds” or “felons need not apply” in order to discourage people with a criminal record from applying.
How can criminal records be used in the hiring process?
The ordinance will go into effect on November 1, 2013. Employers may still decide not to offer a job based on a criminal record that will interfere with a person’s ability to perform the job or will create a risk to the employer or business. An employer must have a legitimate business reason for denying employment.
The ordinance requires employers to consider the following before making a decision in the hiring process:
- The seriousness of the criminal conviction or pending criminal charge
- The number and types of criminal convictions or pending criminal charges
- The time that has passed since the criminal conviction
- Information related to the individual’s rehabilitation or good conduct, provided by the individual
- The specific duties and responsibilities of the position and the person’s qualifications for the position
- The place and manner in which the position will be performed
What should I do if I suspect I’ve been denied employment unfairly because of a criminal record?
Contact the Seattle Office for Civil Rights at 206.684.4500 to file a complaint or request an investigation. The Office for Civil Rights has the ability to investigate and work with employers to understand the new ordinance. They will provide education around hiring practices to encourage compliance, and in circumstances where several violations occur in one year, they can potentially require that employers pay a fine to the applicant that was turned down from the job.
How can I find out more about the Jobs Assistance Ordinance?
The City of Seattle has the entire Jobs Assistance Ordinance posted on their website along with a news release. Check out the segment on KUOW including an interview with Merf Ehman of Columbia Legal Services!