Law would delay background checks on job applicants

SEATTLE -- Looking for dirty laundry? You might have to wait.

Business owners in Seattle could be in for a surprise when it comes to how they hire people in the future.

"This is so wrong-headed and so ridiculous and I think it opens up employers to lawsuits," said Annie Davis, owner of a small Ballard business. "Most employers are not going to want to hire someone who has a felony conviction."

Under the proposed law,, it would be illegal for employers to do a criminal background check on a potential employee until after a conditional job offer has been made.

This allows applicants to have a fair shot regardless of their criminal past, argued Councilmember Bruce Harrell, sponsor of the legislation.

"This is a policy change that our society needs to embrace, our country needs to embrace when it comes to how we treat people who've committed crimes," Harrell said. "They've paid the time. They've paid their debt to society and they're just trying to find work."

Harrell argues that criminals continue to commit crimes if they're not given access to good, upstanding jobs. He also believes that public safety increases when job barriers are reduced.

"I think this is a smart approach," Harrell said. "We want to help these people get off the streets and into work."

Davis fears she could open herself up to a lawsuit by revoking a job offer based on a background check.

"I think that (Harrell is) coming from a good-hearted place," she said, "(but) I don't think it's the right thing to do."

Davis, owner of Annie's Nannies, a nanny agency, says all of her workers undergo rigorous background checks. Her office workers handle finances and would fall under the new law; nannies would likely be exempt because they work with children.

Other exemptions include employees who work with senior citizens, law enforcement, and employers who are required under federal law to inquire about criminal histories.

Harrell says employers would be protected from potential lawsuits under the legislation and points to places like Newark, NJ, and the state of Hawaii as success stories.

"What we're trying to do is encourage employers to look at the totality of the person," Harrell added. "We are denying people great opportunities to work because of a policy that discourages them up front"