Last night, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the “Job Assistance Bill“ restricting employer use of criminal history background checks in hiring. The ordinance was enacted in an effort to ease return to the workforce of “individuals who have been arrested, convicted, or charged with a crime.”

The new ordinance applies to employers of all sizes, as few as one employee. It also covers job placement, temporary and staffing agencies. Unlike the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act or comparable state laws, the ordinance also governs use of information obtained directly by the employer, not though outside background check companies. Employers may not automatically exclude all individuals with an arrest or conviction record for any job performed in whole or substantial part (over 50%) within the City of Seattle. The law restricts questions that can be asked about criminal background. It requires the employer to establish a legitimate business reason before denying an applicant a position based solely on that individual’s criminal conviction record or pending criminal charge. Employers must first notify the applicant of the intent to take an “adverse employment action” based on the record, identify the record or information upon which they are relying, and hold the position open for a minimum of two business days to allow the applicant to respond.

This law emphasizes the rising importance of new, regional restrictions on employer conduct. The City of Seattle implemented mandatory sick/safe leave effective September 1, 2012. This new ordinance furthers the City’s self-regulation efforts.

The ordinance is effective on November 1, 2013, and a copy can be found here.