On Monday, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the Job Assistance Bill, legislation to increase public safety and reduce criminal recidivism by providing job assistance to individuals with previous criminal records.
“The data resoundingly confirms when employment rates increase, crime decreases,” said City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, Chair of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee. “This is a means to reduce recidivism and make our streets and Seattle safer. We have listened to the concerns of the small business employer, large businesses, residents and advocates, representing approximately 100,000 people in our city with records to create legislation that strengthens public safety and improves the employment process.”
According to councilmembers, the bill will maintain safeguards currently in place that protects businesses from violent criminals, dishonesty or unsafe employees.
“The legislation is important in making our local economy work for everyone, removing barriers to accessing jobs and creating a pathway for re-entry and success,” said Councilmember Harrell.
The legislation will prohibit employers from automatically excluding individuals with any arrest or conviction record from consideration for employment. While employers may inquire about an individual’s criminal history after they have completed an initial screening to eliminate unqualified applicants, they may not reject a qualified applicant solely based on their criminal record unless they have:
• Identified to the employee or applicant the record or information on which they are basing their employment decision;
• Provided the applicant or employee a reasonable opportunity to explain or correct the information and hold the position open for a minimum of two business days after notifying the applicant or employee to provide them a meaningful opportunity to respond; and,
• A “legitimate business reason” for making the employment decision.
“This bill helps create the opportunity for a real second chance by giving people with criminal records an opportunity to get their foot in the door, to meet a potential employer and to make their case for why they should get the job. It creates this opportunity while still allowing employers to use criminal history in hiring decisions,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “I appreciate the months of work the business and advocate communities put in to reach this compromise bill.”
According to the University of Washington’s Law, Society and Justice Program, approximately 409,000 people in King County have criminal convictions. While African Americans are 3.6% of Washington’s population, they account for nearly 19% of the state’s prison population. Native Americans are 1.5% of the state population, but are 4.3% of the state’s prison population. 92 percent of all employers run background checks on some or all candidates. In 2010, the white unemployment rate was 8.8 percent in Seattle, but the African American unemployment rate was 15.7 percent.
“We speak from experience when we say that people with criminal histories can make great employees. The majority of our manufacturing workforce includes people with criminal conviction histories, and they are the cornerstone of our business model. It’s our mission but it’s also been good business,” said Karen Lee, CEO of Pioneer Human Services, a non-profit organization operating in 60 locations across Washington.
“This bill is built on the same values that made Seattle great – respect, opportunity and work. It 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, Chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission.