It’s a question that stops many as they fill out an employment application.
“Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”
For an estimated 1 million state residents who, according to the Washington State Patrol, have a criminal record, a truthful answer can mean their application will go directly to the discard pile.
A simple yes or check mark doesn’t begin to explain the circumstances of the crime, whether it was a simple misdemeanor or felony, how long ago it may have occurred or how that person has addressed the crime, made reparations and turned his or her life around.
Box checked, on to the next application.
Legislation that narrowly passed the Senate and is now being considered in the House could give job applicants more opportunity to explain those circumstances and have a better shot at employment by “Banning the Box.”
Senate Bill 5312, the Washington Fair Chance Act, would prevent some employers from the asking whether the applicant has a criminal record until the employer has otherwise determined the applicant is qualified for the position, the point at which many employers already wait to perform background checks.
Holding off on the question gives job applicants an opportunity to explain the circumstances, make their case for having changed and persuade the employer that they would still be a good hire. And nothing in the proposed law would prevent an employer from declining to hire a person based on a person’s criminal record.
Some employers could continue to ask the question upfront, including those hiring for positions with unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults, those where federal or state law requires such inquiries upfront, certain law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and volunteers.
“It’s an issue of fairness,” Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said in a recent Associated Press report.
“People, after they served their time, should be able to at least get in the door for an interview,” Sells said. “After that, the companies can dig out anything they want.”
Opponents have said that the responsibility for clearing up records that stand in the way of employment should be left to those individuals.
Those convicted of certain crimes can apply for a certificate of restoration of opportunity, which restores their ability to apply for an occupational license, but those certificates don’t remove information from criminal records. Misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies and those not classified as “crimes against a person” can be legally expunged from the record, but it can be a lengthy and costly process.
Seattle has had such a law since 2013, as do about 150 other cities and counties in the nation. Twenty states have laws that bar asking about criminal records upfront, while 11 are considering similar legislation.
The legislation is scheduled for consideration today before the House’s Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, for which Sells is the chairman. But the bill must be moved to the House floor before a Wednesday deadline. It passed the Senate, 25-24, but with bipartisan support.
The Fair Chance Act doesn’t seek to conceal criminal records; instead it would provide an opportunity to put those records in perspective and give applicants a better chance to find employment and continue rebuilding their lives.