When State Governor Jay Inslee signed the Washington Fair Chance Act last week, the state joined the rest of the West Coast in enacting state-wide Ban the Box legislation. When it goes into effect on June 6, most employers in the state will be prohibited from asking about criminal arrests and convictions, receiving information through a criminal history background check, or otherwise obtaining information about an applicant’s criminal record, before they determine whether an applicant is otherwise qualified for the position.
This legislation will apply to most employers in the state, including public agencies, private individuals, businesses and corporations, contractors, job placement programs and temporary staffing agencies. Those exempt from the Ban the Box law include employers that are:
- Hiring a person with unsupervised access to either children under the age of 18 or vulnerable adults
- Either permitted or required to run criminal background checks or consider an applicant’s or employee’s criminal record for employment purposes (financial institutions, for example)
- Hiring non-employee volunteers
Some law enforcement and criminal justice agencies are also exempt.
Preparing for the Fair Chance Act
If you’re an employer in Washington State (or in another Ban the Box state), you first need to make sure that the legislation applies to you. Remember, the Fair Chance Act will apply to the vast majority of employers, so unless you meet one of the categories above, you’ll want to start preparing.
Next, you’ll want to review your current job application to see whether it contains a question about criminal history. If it does, you’ll need to remove this question prior to the June 6 deadline. Similarly, if questions about a candidate’s criminal past frequently come up during the interview process – or you typically run a pre-employment background check early in the interview process, you’ll want to revise these procedures, as well. Under the new law, you’ll need to get a clear picture of a candidate’s qualifications and work history and determine that they are “otherwise qualified” for the position prior to inquiring about this criminal history information.
Lastly, you’ll want to implement guidelines and procedures that outline this new process clearly.
Penalties for Non-Compliance
According to language in the Fair Chance Act, employers who violate the statute could face harsh penalties – especially for multiple offenses. While first-time offenders will likely get off with a warning, penalties will go up to $1,000 per violation for multiple offenses. Compliance will be enforced by the state attorney general’s office.
It is estimated that this legislation will help the 1.2 million residents of Washington who have arrest and conviction records by giving them a fair chance of employment in the state. Proponents of the bill fought hard for this legislation to pass on the grounds that everyone deserves a second chance – and to be judged primarily by their qualifications and work experience rather than their pasts. Currently, 11 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted similar Ban the Box laws.