City Council approves new limits on asking job applicants about their criminal history

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

SEATTLE - People with criminal backgrounds will soon find it easier to get a job in Seattle. On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved new limits on asking job applicants about their criminal history.

Beginning Nov. 1, employers in Seattle will not be able to ask about criminal backgrounds in the initial screening application. The question can come up later in the process.

Council member and mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell, who sponsored the ordinance, said the point was to provoke a conversation about the circumstances of a crime between an applicant and an employer, rather than have an applicant immediately disqualified. "We want that discussion, what happened to you, why did you do this?" Harrell said.

Employers can still reject an applicant because of a criminal history, but they need to tell the applicant what they found and give them two days to explain or correct that information. An employer must also give a "legitimate business reason" for not hiring the applicant based on their criminal background.

After initial concerns, business groups spoke generally in favor of the new law just before the council vote. George Allen at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce hopes a city panel made up of employers and activists will make sure the law actually works.

Allen identified questions to watch: "Are there any adverse impacts? Are there any jobs created? We really want to measure the success of this down the road," he said.