There is a better way to help convicted felons find a job | Don Brunell

Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell is proposing a new law that would prohibit employers from “discriminating” against convicted felons.

 

Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell is proposing a new law that would prohibit employers from “discriminating” against convicted felons. The law would prevent any employer, whether they are a hospital, school or merchant, from looking at an applicant’s criminal record until late in the hiring process and, with few exceptions, would not allow them to reject applicants solely on their criminal history.

Harrell believes convicted felons are less likely to reoffend if they have more employment opportunities. He told a television reporter, “Recidivism is so high because they can’t get jobs.”

In one sense, Harrell is correct. If a person with a criminal record is committed to changing his or her life, having a job helps pay the rent and put food on the table.

But there are other problems to consider.

First, we have to assume Councilman Harrell’s proposal does not cover people locked away for violent crimes or as sexual predators.

Second, the information about someone’s criminal background should be available from the beginning. On a practical level, employers invest considerable time and money in the interview process, including costly drug testing. Addressing criminal history early in the process makes more sense.

In addition, employers and the people working for them must have a trusting relationship. Understanding someone’s background and skills up front is paramount.

When Gov. Gary Locke took office, First Lady Mona Locke asked AWB and others to join her in developing a program called Computers for Kids. The program collected and shipped used computers to the Airway Heights Correctional Facility near Spokane where they were refurbished by inmates and distributed to needy schools.

Airway Heights was a medium-security prison. Being inside the facility felt safe, and talking with the inmates doing the work was instructive. These folks were put in jail for non-violent crimes and, by and large, were being trained to get a job. As an employer, it is good to know up front about this person’s background, rehabilitation and training for a job.

Today, employers struggle with uncertainty, taxes, a morass of federal, state and local regulations and the difficulty of staying afloat in our anemic economy. If Councilman Harrell’s proposal establishes convicted felons as a “protected class,” it will create a new layer of uncertainty and risk.

For example, rejected applicants could file complaints with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights. Even if they lose, they will have cost the employer untold thousands of dollars in time and legal fees.

The law would exempt jobs working with seniors or other vulnerable populations, along with those where public-safety issues are a factor. But what if a convicted burglar wants a job in your locksmith shop? What if a convicted sex offender wants a job installing home carpet? What if a person convicted of vehicular manslaughter wants a job driving one of your trucks?

What happens if a felon hired pursuant to this law commits a crime, either on the job or with information gained through their employment? Will the city of Seattle grant employers immunity from liability?

As Angela Bosworth writes on employeescreen.com, “At what stage in the process are [employers] allowed to ask about a candidate’s record? Do they follow state or local laws, or do they follow the federal guidelines? How do they follow up with candidates, and how far must they go to keep a job open if criminal history is disclosed? And if they get sued for negligent hiring because they followed the rules and they get burned, who is going to pay for their defense?”

Councilman Harrell must definitively answer all of those questions before his proposal moves forward.

 

More in Business

Belmont venture offers lavender, much more

The remodeled barn opened as a business in July.

Good economic news in time for the holidays | Don Brunell

But how long will increasing revenue streams last?

Immunizations make a difference | Don Brunell

Venezuela is in deep trouble, partly because its public health system no longer offer the full cycle of vaccinations.

‘Medical spa’ offers variety of skin treatments

Rainier Laser and Aesthetics Center is now open in Enumclaw.

Enumclaw opens new preschool, now enrolling students

Classes for two different age groups are being offered.

Cost matters when businesses hire | Don Brunell

It’s not just wages, but benefits, that companies must consider when hiring or retaining workers.

Military also adjusting to worker shortages | Don Brunell

There are just fewer qualified people in the employment pool to fill jobs which require higher educational standards, more skills, a willingness to work hard, and the dexterity to be part of a team.

Portland shipyard building wave of the future | Don Brunell

While it may not be the first commercial wave energy project, it will be one of the largest.

Carbon fee hurts businesses and families | Don Brunell

A carbon tax would raise over $610 million in its first year and jump to $761 million by 2023, but the added cost from the initiative over 15 years is projected to be 57-cents a gallon.

The Russians are indeed coming | Don Brunell

Russia is now the world’s top wheat producer.

Firehouse Pub: slight change of address but atmosphere remains the same

It was quite the project, renovating the pub’s new home.

Enumclaw’s QFC debuts home delivery service

The first order is free, but other orders will come with a charge.