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Some Seattle businesses are blasting a new bill passed Monday by the City Council preventing them from asking about a criminal background during an initial job. (AP file)

Small business owner argues against Seattle 'second chance bill'

Small business owner Brian Robinson isn't necessarily opposed to hiring someone with a criminal record, but he's frustrated a new bill just passed by the Seattle City Council won't even let him ask about it until after an initial screening.

Robinson employs about 15 people at Seattle-based Jet City Property Management. Under the measure passed unanimously Monday, businesses couldn't reject an applicant with a criminal record without "a legitimate business reason."

A prospective employee who feels discriminated against can file a complaint with the Seattle Human Right Commission, which can fine a company up to $1,000.

But Robinson argues that agency knows nothing about his business and their criminal background could and should play a big part in whether he considers them for a job. For example, he says he wouldn't want someone with a history of violence working in his small office.

"And I would feel justified in saying that in my business," he tells KIRO Radio's Luke Burbank Show. "What it comes down to is I have five people in my office, and I have to make decisions everyday on how we're going to have those people function together and if I make a mistake on one of them it's a huge, huge cost."

Robinson also has issues with the expanded record keeping required to document all of his interviewing and the challenge of proving a "legitimate business reason" in rejecting an applicant.

The new measure does exempt jobs like police and security, along with those working directly with children under 16-years-old or developmentally disabled people and vulnerable adults.

Robinson argues the city should instead focus its efforts on expanding on job training and other services to help convicted criminals turn their lives around rather than forcing a new bureaucracy on business owners.

"It doesn't really address recidivism. You're not required to hire these people and it doesn't make them more employable," he says.

Robinson also thinks the Seattle Human Rights Commission is ill-equipped to handle its new mandate. He calls it an agency with a "guilty until proven innocent" approach that puts him at risk for frivolous and potentially costly complaints.

"Any individual who felt they had been discriminated against would be able to lodge a complaint and start an investigative process," he says.

Ultimately, he insists he has no qualms about hiring someone simply because of their past. But he thinks it's unfair to dictate how he goes about hiring and prevent him from having whatever relevant information he needs to make an informed choice from the beginning.

"I think that people make mistakes, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life and I have a lot of friends who've been involved in drugs and been involved in issues they've had to recover from," he says.

"The question is whether we have to assume all the liability and all the persecution on that or whether we can draw some lines in our own company."

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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