In Seattle, in November 2013, the “Fair Chance Employment” was enacted and put into effect (Seattle municipal code 14.17). This ordinance dictates how background checks can be used in the hiring process and puts limits on required information.

The ordinance is to be used by businesses that employ one or more employees and limits the ways in which they may be disqualified for a job. The ordinance is designed to reduce recidivism and help those who have paid their debt for their crime and deserve gainful employment. 

So what are the rules? A few of the key requirements are: 

  • The ordinance prohibits automatic disqualification from employment simply because the applicant has either an arrest or conviction record.
  • Questions about criminal history and conducting background checks must wait until after an employer conducts an initial screening of applicants
  • If a background check is done, the employer must give the applicant a chance to explain or correct the criminal history information.
  • The employer must have a “legitimate business reason” to deny the applicant a job based on a conviction record.

This ordinance does have exceptions due to the nature of the job applied for, and whether there was a conviction or pending charge. 

In order to arrive at their conclusion, regarding the employment of the applicant, the employer has to consider several factors.

These include:

  • The seriousness of the conviction or charge.
  • The number and types of convictions or pending charges.
  • How long it’s been since the conviction or charge (not to include periods of incarceration).
  • Verifiable information related to the rehabilitation or good conduct of the individual.
  • The specific duties and responsibilities of the position sought or held, and will the applicant be acceptable in that particular area of employment.

Please keep in mind that the ordinance was originally for the city of Seattle and was instituted in 2013. It is strongly suggested that an applicant, at the least, checks with a criminal defense attorney in Washington state so that he/she may know any changes, expansions, or additions to this ordinance and how it currently affects them in their geographical location.

Generally the courts try to help applicants who have been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime to gain employment. Only a criminal justice attorney will help you know for certain how you should approach this matter. 

How Far Back does a Criminal Background Check go in Washington State?

According to the Washington Human Rights Commission, employers should not ask about convictions unless the convictions are:

  • Directly related to the job that the applicant is applying for.
  • Occurring within the last 10 years. 

Washington state has guidelines to having a criminal record and employment in the state. It provides the applicant with answers to most general questions they need to know when applying for a job. It requires that all questions be answered accurately on your application, as well as in an face-to-face interview. Most companies today do criminal background checks in their normal routine when hiring an applicant.

If the applicant does not answer honestly, the employer may certainly find out the details from other sources. It is very important to realize that if the applicant does not answer correctly, or leaves out critical information, the employer may disqualify them solely for that reason. This would hold true even if the applicant were not disqualified for their criminal record. 

Many applicants do not even know exactly what is in their criminal records and some have errors which may need to be corrected. If you feel that this may be an issue with employers, you should first get a current copy of your criminal record.

This will allow you to answer any employer questions correctly, as well as correct any mistakes that may be in it. For more information about how to obtain your criminal history report, see the ACLU of Washington’s “Guide to getting and reading criminal history reports”. The guide also encourages the applicant to seek the advice of a criminal attorney providing defense in Washington state.

An attorney will be able to provide you with specifics and the best guidance regarding this important matter. A criminal attorney’s advice may help tremendously in approaching this sensitive matter correctly and getting you the job you desire. This could have an effect on the rest of your life, for both you and your family. 

So is “Honesty” Always the best Policy when Disclosing my Criminal Record to a Prospective Employer?

In most cases, the answer to that is yes. Recall that if you provide an employer with false or misleading information about your criminal record, you could be disqualified from the job for that reason alone. It would not be dependent on your criminal record at all.

Washington state has both federal and state protections against employers using criminal record to disqualify applicants from employment. Have the charges been dismissed? Were they dropped? What are the specifics and do they even apply to the job in question? 

An applicant has definitive rights when applying for a job, and employers are governed by two major Federal laws also that pertain to disqualification:

  • Federal anti-discrimination laws. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees based on certain protected characteristics. While criminal history is not a protected category, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recognized that members of certain groups would be disproportionately impacted by a blanket policy of not hiring applicants with a criminal record.
  • Criminal background check laws. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies whenever an employer hires a third party to run a background check on a job applicant. Among other things, the employer must obtain the applicant’s written consent for this check, but if applicants refuse to consent to the background check, the employer can take them out of the running for the job.

An applicant has rights, and the employer is governed by rules that dictate when and if they can disqualify you on the basis of your criminal record. You must know the specifics to your case however, and it is always in your best interest to get advice from a criminal defense lawyer who will help fight for your rights.