Most economic indicators suggest that we are working our way out of the recession that struck several years ago. Yet, even though the general signs indicate things are improving, all Washington residents appreciate that it still remains very difficult to both get a new job and keep a current one. Unemployment is still higher than it should be and the mantra “It’s tough out there” still applies.
When it comes to job hunting there is one group of residents who have a particularly difficult time–those with a criminal background. Unfortunately, many job applications screen out residents with any manner of crimes in their past–even if those legal violations were minor or happened many years ago. Many applicants may be a great fit for the position but get passed up for indiscretions in the past.
Leveling the Playing Field
In a pushback against this situation, a few states and municipalities are passing legislation known as “ban the box” laws. There are different versions of these measures but, essentially they seek to minimize employers rights to use background checks as a blanket policy in order to screen job applicants. The hope is that these law will at least give applicants with a record a fighting chance when competing with others for jobs of all types.
Washington is not one of the six states that has enacted statewide measures. However, last week the Seattle City Council decided to pass an employee rights bill that addresses this concern. The ordinance was introduced in committee in early June and was passed unanimously by the council a week later. The law will take effect on November 1st, making it important for both job applicants, and particularly employers, to familiarize themselves with the details of the measure to ensure compliance with the new Seattle employment law. The full text of the bill can be viewed online here.
Jobs Assistance Bill
In short, the bill does not allow jobs that will be completed mostly in Seattle to implement policies or practices that exclude those with a criminal arrest or conviction. This does not mean that criminal background checks are no longer allowed. They can still be used but only after an initial screening of applications which does not consider those records.
There are also various exceptions written into the law which allows employers to take “adverse action” against an employee or prospective hire for an arrest or conviction. Those exceptions generally relate to any legitimate business reason. Legitimate business reasons refer to situations where the conduct connected to the criminal charge or conviction affect the employee ability to perform duties or may harm the business.
When evaluating whether or not the company has a legitimate business interest, various factors should be considered. Those include the seriousness of the charge, the time since the charge, the specific duties of the job, and similar details.
For help understanding how the new Seattle employment law may apply in your situation, please contact our attorneys to learn more.