(By Kelly Spors)
“Dubbed “the second chance bill,” the legislation’s supporters say it gives people with criminal records a better chance at landing a job and turning their lives around. Employers in the city will not be allowed to inquire about someone’s criminal record in the initial employment screening process and can’t reject candidates based solely on their criminal record.“
Conducting criminal background checks on job applicants is standard practice at many businesses—small and large. But some cities, states and the federal government are making it harder to do, and even penalizing companies that conduct them.
On Monday, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a bill that prohibits businesses in the city from rejecting an applicant with a criminal record “without a legitimate business reason.” An applicant who feels they were discriminated against because of their record can file a complaint with the Seattle Human Rights Commission, and the business could be fined up to $1,000.
Dubbed “the second chance bill,” the legislation’s supporters say it gives people with criminal records a better chance at landing a job and turning their lives around. Employers in the city will not be allowed to inquire about someone’s criminal record in the initial employment screening process and can’t reject candidates based solely on their criminal record.
“The new law gives all people looking for work, including those who have made mistakes, the chance to be considered on the basis of their strengths, not their weaknesses,” Chris Stearns, chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Some business owners in the city, as well as the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, think the bill limits the ability to make smart hires and potentially poses a threat to the safety of their workplace.
Brian Robinson, owner of the 15-employee Jet City Property Management, opposes the new law. “What it comes down to is I have five people in my office, and I have to make decisions every day on how we’re going to have those people function together, and if I make a mistake on one of them it’s a huge, huge cost,” he told KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show.
The Seattle legislation, which takes effect on November 1, isn’t the first such measure. Similar “Ban the Box” laws are already in place in more than a dozen cities and states, according to the National Employment Law Project. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has also taken steps to make it harder for employers nationwide to conduct criminal background checks. Last year, the EEOC issued revised guidance that warned employers against using criminal background checks to limit job opportunities for people with past convictions. Yesterday, the EEOC filed lawsuits against Dollar General Corp. and a BMW manufacturer in South Carolina over their use of criminal background checks to screen out or fire job applicants, according to CBSNews.com.
Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, spoke out against the EEOC’s measures last year, saying criminal background checks help employers “provide a safe place for their employees to work.” According to McCracken’s testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, employers “need to take steps to prevent theft, fraud and embezzlement. Criminal background screening is an important tool—very nearly the only tool—that employers have to protect their customers, their employees and themselves from criminal behavior.”
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