Seattle employers should be ready for new background check law

by Amy Kunkel-Patterson

Seattle’s new law restricting the use of criminal background checks takes effect November 1. The Job Assistance Ordinance prohibits employers from requiring applicants to disclose arrest or conviction records as part of initial job applications. It also restricts how employers may use arrest and conviction records that eventually are disclosed.

A number of steps will help employers comply with the new law. Here are a few:

  • Determine which employees fall under the new ordinance. If you have employees who work both in and outside Seattle, only those who work 50 percent or more of the time in Seattle are subject to the law.
  • Determine if any positions are excluded. The ordinance doesn’t apply to law enforcement, crime prevention, security, criminal justice, or private investigation personnel or positions involving unsupervised access to children younger than 16, vulnerable adults, or developmentally disabled persons.
  • For positions that fall under the ordinance, remove questions such as “Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?” from applications.
  • Edit job postings and advertisements to remove phrases such as “felons need not apply.” You may still inform applicants that you will conduct a criminal background check after an initial screening.

For further information on the ordinance as well as more compliance tips, see the November issue of Washington Employment Law Letter.

Amy Kunkel-Patterson is an editor of Washington Employment Law Letter and an attorney with Perkins Coie LLP in Seattle. She can be reached at