Business Law

Seattle Ordinance Governing Criminal Background Checks

By July 11, 2013 No Comments

If you are a business owner, I believe it is important to update you on changes in the local laws that may impact your business. In doing so, I would like to call your attention to a recent Seattle ordinance, which may change the processes that some of you use in hiring and retaining employees.

On June 10, 2013, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a new ordinance concerning the legality of employers to conduct criminal background checks on prospective employees. This ordinance becomes effective on November 1, 2013.  Here is a link to this ordinance.

In summary, in order to comply, employers:

  • May not automatically exclude prospective employees with an arrest or conviction record from any employment position that will be performed at least 50% of the time within the City of Seattle.
  • May examine a prospective employee’s criminal history, but only after completing an initial screening of applicants.
  • May not make an adverse employment decision solely based on an employee’s or applicant’s arrest record. Employers may inquire about the arrest record. However, an employer can only “carry out a tangible adverse employment action” based on this information if a “legitimate business reason” exists for doing so.
  • May not “carry out a tangible adverse employment action solely based on an employee’s or applicant’s criminal conviction record or pending criminal charge, unless the employer has a legitimate business reason for taking such action.”
  • Must, before making adverse employment decisions based on an applicant’s or employee’s arrest, pending criminal charge or criminal conviction, identify the information relied upon and provide the employee or applicant with a reasonable opportunity to respond (which is defined as a minimum of two business days).

A “legitimate business reason” is defined in Section 1 of the Ordinance. I invite you to carefully review this definition, which is a key component of the new requirement.

Please review the text of this ordinance. I anticipate that, within the next few months, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights will promulgate regulations to give employers more guidance to ensure compliance.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact my office for more details about these requirements. We’re happy to help your business comply.



This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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