Despite opposition from local business groups, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the "Second Chance Bill" on June 10.  The ordinance, which was introduced last November, limits Seattle employers' use of an applicant's criminal conviction history during the hiring process. The measure goes into effect on November 1, 2013.

Seattle has joined more than 50 other cities across the country with similar measures. According to its proponents, led by Councilman and Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell, the ordinance is designed to decrease criminal recidivism rates by enabling more individuals with criminal backgrounds to obtain jobs.

Under the ordinance, most Seattle public and private employers may only ask about a candidate's criminal record after an initial screening to eliminate unqualified applicants. Even at the initial screen, the employer may only consider the applicant's criminal background if there is a "legitimate business reason" to do so. Legitimate business reasons exist when the employer believes that the nature of the criminal conduct affects the applicant's fitness or ability for the position or may cause injury to people or business assets. As the measure is implemented, the Seattle Human Rights Commission will release a more extensive definition of legitimate business reasons.

The ordinance does have some exceptions:

  • It does not cover employers that are permitted or required by federal law to obtain background checks before making offers.
  • The ordinance does not apply to positions that provide services to children, the mentally ill, or other vulnerable adults, or to those involved in law enforcement, crime prevention, security, or private investigation.
  • Employers seeking to fill a position involving access to money, financial information, or personal identifying information of others may consider these responsibilities as legitimate business reasons when determining whether to exclude applicants with records of embezzlement, theft, fraud, or other financial crimes.
  • The ordinance applies only to jobs where the employee will work at least half the time within the Seattle city limits.

Applicants may report violations to the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, which can issue a warning for a first offense, a $750 fine for the second offense, and a $1,000 fine for each later violation.