Ordinance seeks to reduce employment discrimination for those with criminal history
When she was 10 years old, Carmen Romero was convicted of misdemeanor assault after fighting with kids who insulted her with racial slurs.
Now a student at Shoreline Community College, Romero said the incident continues to dog her.
“All employers can see is my criminal record,” Romero told the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Sept. 19.
Job applications frequently ask about criminal backgrounds, enabling employers to filter out anyone who has one.
Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell has proposed legislation that he says will prevent employers from dismissing applicants with a criminal history before they can proceed through the application process.
If passed, the ordinance would require employers to give a conditional offer of employment before asking about criminal history or conducting a background check.
Delaying the revelation of a criminal past would force a conversation, Harrell said, creating an opportunity for the employer to consider the entire person and the mistakes they may have made in their past.
Almost all of the people who attended the Sept. 19 meeting supported the legislation, but Harrell said his email inbox is filled with messages from people opposing the change.
“Right now I think there is a lot of fear in this city,” he said. “You should see my emails. You should see the amount of venom pointed at me.”
Some employers worry the law will force them to hire people despite safety concerns. George Allen of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce said someone running an office with an all-female staff should not be forced to hire someone with a record of sexual assaults.
The law doesn’t do that, according to city staff. Employers are still allowed to decide against a candidate if they are worried about safety issues.
The legislation, which Harrell hopes to pass out of the Public Safety Committee in the next month, has the support of civil rights groups, who say that the current employment practice puts up too many barriers for people who have been incarcerated and disproportionately harms people of color.
African Americans, for example, make up 3.6 percent of the state’s population but 19 percent of the state’s prison population. Native Americans make up 1.5 percent of the state population and 4.3 percent of the prison population.
More than 114,000 people in Seattle have arrest records, and 409,000 in King County have criminal convictions.
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