Seattle’s New Criminal Background Check Ordinance

Employers beware! Effective November 1, 2013, a new City of Seattle ordinance (pdf) will severely restrict a private employer’s ability to ask about and use the criminal conviction history of its job applicants and employees.

So what’s a Seattle employer to do? Here are some things you should consider:

1. Prepare for these new restrictions. The ordinance becomes effective November 1, 2013.

2. The definition of “employee” includes any individual who performs all or a substantial part (at least 50%) of the individual’s services for the employer within the City.

3. The definition of “employee” does not include an individual who during the course of employment will or may have unsupervised access to children under 16 years old, developmentally disabled persons, or vulnerable adults.

4. Review your job advertisements, employment application form, and policies and practices, and revise them as necessary to comply with the new ordinance. For example, your job advertisements should not automatically or categorically exclude individuals with any arrest or conviction record.

5. You should only perform a criminal background check or ask for criminal history information after you have completed your initial screening to eliminate unqualified applicants.

6. Do not take adverse employment action against a job applicant or employee based solely on the individual’s criminal conviction history or conduct underlying any pending charge unless you have a “legitimate business reason” for doing so (which the ordinance very narrowly defines).

7. Violation of the ordinance can subject you to monetary penalties of up to $750 to $1,000, depending on the number of violations, and payment of the City’s attorneys’ fees.

The City hopes to give those convicted, arrested, or charged with a crime a chance to gain employment so they can turn around their lives. We all deserve a second chance. But an employer in the City of Seattle should be careful to avoid becoming a victim of this new ordinance.

This blog post is intended to inform our clients and friends about the City’s recent criminal background ordinance. It is not intended as legal advice. Please contact Daniel Ichinaga, Nat Taylor, Steve O’Ban, or Kristen Waggoner if we can help you comply with the new Seattle ordinance or help you with any other employment issue.