Proposal would delay criminal background checks on job applicants

SEATTLE -- Business owners in Seattle could soon see some significant changes to the way they hire employees.

As it stands now, they can conduct a criminal background check on any job applicant prior to even granting an interview. But that rule could soon go by the wayside if one city councilman has his way.

Councilman Bruce Harrell believes people with criminal backgrounds are less likely to become repeat offenders if they have a better chance of entering the workforce. His proposal would prevent most employers in the city from viewing a job applicant's criminal record until late in the hiring process.

It might seem surprising, but many local business owners are in favor of the proposed legislation.

"I've interviewed, I've hired, I've worked with people with past criminal histories," said Greg Loyd, who manages Zeek's Pizza.

David Meinert, who owns the 5 Point Cafe, agrees.

"We need to create a level playing field," he said.

Meinert likes the idea so much he's already applying it, but he does have his concerns.

"Obviously, if I run a daycare I want to know if someone is a child molester," he said. "If someone is handling money I want to know if they've robbed a bank."

Harrell said more than 409,000 people have criminal records in King County and more than 114,000 people have arrest records in Seattle.

"There are many reasons why people recommit, and recidivism is so high because they can't get access to jobs," he said.

The law would also ban employers from denying jobs based solely on an applicant's criminal history. The rules wouldn't apply to jobs where employees work around vulnerable people or senior citizens, and there would be exceptions were public safety issues would trump the law.

"What we're saying is let's look at the person. Let's look at the human being, and then we make wise employment decisions from from there," Harrell said.

Harrell's proposal will next go to committee, and the full council is expected to vote on the issue in the next month or so.