Seattle City Council Enacts Controversial and Restrictive Criminal Background Check Ordinance

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

On June 10, 2013, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance significantly restricting private employers’ ability to rely on criminal background checks to screen applicants for jobs in the City of Seattle. If Mayor McGinn approves the ordinance (as expected), the new law will take effect Nov. 1, 2013. Once in effect, employers will no longer be able to inquire about a job applicant’s criminal history at the initial application stage—a so-called “ban the box” approach. The ordinance further prohibits employers from taking adverse employment action against job applicants or employees based on criminal conduct, unless such conduct will have a negative impact on the applicant’s or employee’s ability to do the job sought, or will harm or cause injury to people, property, or business assets. All employment decisions are subject to investigation and review by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

The ordinance covers all private employers with one or more employees, and applies to all positions requiring at least 50 percent of working time within the City of Seattle.

Key aspects of the Seattle ordinance

  • Employers cannot inquire about an applicant’s criminal background until after the employee completes an “initial screening” to eliminate unqualified applicants.
  • Employers cannot take adverse employment action based solely on an applicant’s or current employee’s arrest record.
  • Employers cannot take adverse employment action based on an applicant’s or current employee’s pending criminal charges, a conviction record, or conduct related to an arrest, unless the employer has a “legitimate business reason” for taking such action and considers several other enumerated factors relating to the specific criminal background, job in question, and individual applicant.
  • A “legitimate business reason” is a good faith belief that the criminal conduct or pending charge will (not may) have a negative impact on the applicant’s or current employee’s ability to do the job sought or held, or will (not may) harm or cause injury to people, property, or business assets.
  • Before taking any adverse action based solely on an applicant’s or employee’s criminal conduct or pending charge, an employer must inform the applicant of the reason and give the applicant or current employee a chance to explain or correct the information. When hiring for an open position, the employer must also hold the position open for two days to give the applicant or current employee the opportunity to respond.
  • The ordinance expressly exempts positions in certain fields, including law enforcement and security. It also does not apply to positions that may have unsupervised access to children, disabled persons, and vulnerable adults.
  • The ordinance states that it creates no private right of action (but says nothing about possible tort claims, like negligent hiring, retention, or supervision).
  • The Seattle Office of Civil Rights has enforcement authority, may impose fines ($750-1000 per offense, plus attorney’s fees, and may initiate investigations of alleged violations with or without a complaint by a charging party.
  • The Seattle Office of Civil Rights will be tasked with issuing implementing rules.

DWT is planning a webinar in the coming weeks to provide additional guidance to employers on Seattle’s new criminal background check ordinance. We will also send updates as the rules implementing the new ordinance take shape in coming months.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Davis Wright Tremaine LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.