Seattle City Council passes Councilman Harrell’s Criminal Background Check Ordinance; includes most of the amendments requested by the business community

Seattle City Council passes Councilman Harrell’s Criminal Background Check Ordinance; includes most of the amendments requested by the business community https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/hotg1.jpg
 
The Seattle City Council has been debating various versions of an ordinance that would change how employers use background checks in the hiring process. The discussion has evolved over several months, starting with a committee hearing last September, when the original version surfaced. At that time, The Seattle Chamber of Commerce joined the Seattle Restaurant Alliance and many other industry organizations in asking the prime sponsor Councilman Bruce Harrell to consider a significant pause so that we all can engage in the discussion. He agreed, and we have been part of a coalition led by the Seattle Chamber in working with Councilman Harrell and the city over the past nine months on several amendments to make the legislation something that might actually work for employers, or at the very least have as few negative impacts as possible. Here is a comparison of the major points of where the legislation started, as well as where it stands as passed by the Council after much work by the business coalition.             First draft:

  • Prohibited a criminal background check be done in the hiring process until AFTER a conditional offer of employment took place
  • Did not allow an job applicant to be denied a job solely on the basis of what was found in a criminal background check
  • Created a private right-of-action for any applicant who felt wronged by the hiring process
  • Required a lengthy form to be filled out every time an employer went through the hiring process and denied a job to an applicant
  • Ordinance as passed by the City Council:
  • Allows a criminal background check to be done after the first screening of applicants is complete (this prohibits the employer from being able to have a box to check on the application asking whether or not the applicant has been convicted of a felony)
  • Allows an applicant to be denied a job solely on the basis of what was found in the background check if the employer, in a good faith effort, feels that hiring this person would will put the business and/or employees possibly in harm’s way
  • No longer contains a private right-of-action; all complaints go through the Seattle Office of Civil Rights with the goal of a solution at the Hearing Examiner stage
  • No longer requires a lengthy form to be filled out asking the employer to explain him/herself in why they did not hire the applicant
  • Contains a six month check-in with the business community and proponents at the table to review how the new law is working. If it is not working well, Councilman Harrell has stated several times that he is prepared to make any further changes need so that this is a law that does not harm the business community.

The final version is by no means perfect, but it does reflect significant progress between the Seattle business community and the Seattle City Council in working together when these types of issues surface for debate. We are hopeful that this model, which was starkly different than the one used for the debate on mandatory paid sick leave in Seattle, continues to be the direction the City Council goes as we continue working together for a better Seattle. If you have any questions or would like to talk further about this legislation, please contact Josh McDonald at joshm@warestaurant.org.