Washington State is now the next state to officially “Ban the Box.” What does “Ban the Box” mean? It means that both public and private employers cannot inquire about an applicant’s arrests or convictions until after the employer finds that the applicant is qualified for the job. In effect, it makes it so that employers have to give even people with arrests and convictions a fair shot at a job, and cannot ask about those arrests or convictions until later on.
On March 13, 2018, Washington signed the Washington Fair Chance Act (2SHB 1298) into law. It applies to all employers, from public agencies and private individuals to temporary staffing agencies and apprenticeship programs. Specifically, it places three main restrictions on employers when they are evaluating a new job applicant. First, the employer cannot ask for or obtain or obtain information about the applicant’s criminal record. They may do so only after they decide that the applicant is sufficiently qualified for the position. Second, the employer cannot advertise for jobs in a way that excludes people with criminal records (like saying “no felons”). Third, they cannot put into place policies or practices that automatically exclude people with criminal records from being considered, such as rejecting an applicant for failure to disclose a criminal record before deciding if the applicant is qualified.
There are a few qualifications to the new law. Employers do not have to hire people with criminal convictions, it just means that they cannot purposefully exclude them from the hiring process. Importantly, employers can still ask about or obtain information about criminal records. The employer can still do background checks after the initial screening phase of the hiring process—so, once you get far enough along in the process, an employer can still get that information if it exists. The law does not apply to people who are working with kids or who are “vulnerable.” It also does not apply to employers who are specifically allowed to ask for this kind of information, and does not apply to law enforcement agencies.
Finally, there are penalties for employers who fail to abide by the law. People applying for jobs cannot bring lawsuits when employers break this law, but the Attorney General can investigate if and when employers do so. The Attorney General can take different actions to force employers to comply, including monetary penalties from $750 to $1,000 per violation. The law does not override local laws: Employers must abide by both the local and state laws on this subject.
For more information, contact an attorney, like a employment lawyer in Atlanta, GA, today.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Barrett & Farahany, LLP for their insight into employment law.