By Paul Schlienz


Employers take notice: Starting today, a new law designed to help people with criminal convictions find employment and rebuild their lives takes effect. The new law will require changes to your application process for job seekers if you do not already comply.

During the 2018 legislative session, like a growing number of cities and states, Washington passed a law restricting criminal history inquiries during the hiring process. The measure, often called “Ban the Box,” is named the Washington Fair Chance Act (2SHB 1298), and was signed into law on March 13, by Gov. Jay Inslee. Beginning June 7, public and private employers are prohibited from asking about arrests or convictions until after applicants are determined qualified for a position.

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“With an open mind and some creativity, hiring second-chance citizens could represent a unique business and social opportunity,” wrote Jerry Goodstein, professor at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, in an op-ed for the Spokesman Review. “From meeting the growing demand for hard-to-fill positions, to giving these individuals a chance to rebuild their lives and positively contribute to their communities, screening in this often-overlooked source of candidates is not only good for business, it’s good for society and for Washington.”

According to Fisher Phillips’ analysis of the new law Washington employers can no longer:

  • Ask or obtain information, either orally or in writing, about job applicants’ criminal records until after applicants are determined to be meet the basic requirements of the position as specified in the advertisement or job description;
  • Advertise job openings with ads or notices which make statements like “no felons” or “no criminal background” or similar messages that discourage people with criminal convictions from applying; and
  • Implement policies or practices that automatically exclude individuals with criminal records from consideration prior to initially determining an applicant is otherwise qualified for the position. This prohibition includes rejecting applicants for failing to disclose criminal records before an initial determination that an applicant is otherwise qualified.

Please note that you are still allowed to obtain information about criminal records after the initial determination that an applicant is otherwise qualified. While background checks can no longer be used as an initial screening tool, employers are still allowed to conduct checks later in the process. Keep in mind that you are not required to hire anyone with a criminal conviction due to the new law.