What Does the New City of Seattle Background Check Ordinance Mean to Employers?

Starting November 1, 2013, a newly mandated City of Seattle ‘second chance’ ordinance requires that employers change the way in which they ask about and use the criminal conviction history of its job applicants and employees. The goal of the new ordinance is to give those convicted, arrested, or charged with a crime a chance to gain employment in an effort to change their course and give back to the community.

Here is what you need to know:

  • The ordinance applies to any employee who works at least 50% of the time in the City of Seattle. Employers may no longer include a criminal history question on their employment applications.
  • To ensure compliance we suggest that employers closely review and make appropriate changes to job application questions, interview processes, as well as job descriptions and postings.
  • We also strongly recommend that employers implement a documentation process that outlines the specific circumstances when applicants with criminal histories are not hired.
  • Employers can still perform a criminal background check or require a potential candidate to provide criminal history information, but only after the screening and resume review process of all applicants has been completed and the employer has identified which applicants have the required skills to carry out the job’s responsibilities. In other words, an employer must first identify which candidates are qualified for the position before conducting a background check. A good way to manage this process is to only conduct background checks when extending an offer and to make the offer contingent upon completion of a successful background check.
  • Employers can inquire about conduct related to an arrest record but cannot deny employment based on the related arrest or criminal conviction record unless the employer can document a legitimate business related reason for the decision. For example, if during the course of employment an employee will have unsupervised access to children under 16 years old, developmentally disabled persons, or vulnerable adults then there may be a legitimate reason to deny employment based on the criminal conviction.
  • If a third party vendor conducts your background checks or if you outsource your hiring needs it is still the employers responsibility to ensure compliance with all of the requirements of this new ordinance.

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