Will Discrimination of Criminals in Seattle be Prohibited In the Hiring Process?

The Seattle City Council is considering legislation, CB 117583, which could alter the way in which employers in construction (and other industries) are allowed to use criminal background information when making hiring decisions. The legislation seeks to make it an “unfair employment practice within the City for any:”

Employer to engage in the following prohibited employment practices by reason of an applicant’s or employee’s record of arrests or criminal convictions or pending criminal charges.

  1. 1. No employer shall discharge, refuse to hire, or carry out a tangible adverse employment action because of
  2. a)      an employee’s or applicant’s arrest record; or

b)      an employee’s or applicant’s criminal conviction record, unless there is a direct relationship between the conviction record and the employment sought or held; or

c)      a pending criminal charge against an applicant or employee, unless there is a direct relationship between the circumstances of the pending criminal charge and the employment sought or held.

2. No employer shall obtain or consider information about an applicant’s arrest or criminal conviction record or pending criminal charge, or request a job applicant to supply such information, until after the employer has given the applicant a conditional offer of employment.

The mission of the ordinance is to “increase job assistance through reducing criminal recidivism and enhancing positive reentries to society by prohibiting certain adverse employment actions against individuals who have been arrested, convicted, or charged with a crime.”  Although the intent of the ordinance is understandably supported by some in the Seattle community and members of the Council, the effects on the construction industry cannot be ignored.  Most often, if not always, construction projects have a schedule and set completion date.  Thus, the delays associated with (1) being able to conduct a criminal background check until a conditional offer of employment has been made and (2) not being able to discharge or refuse to hire an employee or applicant until a pending criminal charge is adjudicated can cause a tremendous strain on contractors staying on schedule for a bid or job in Seattle.  The alternative, of course, would be to take a chance on any liability associated with hiring an individual without the criminal background check.

The proposed legislation is still “in committee” at this time.

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