Politics & Government

Tacoma removes question on past felonies from city job applications

Since Wednesday, job seekers for most openings at the city of Tacoma have had one fewer box to check on their applications.

The form used to ask: “Have you been convicted of a felony within the last 10 years?”

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to remove the question from job applications for city posts. Some positions will continue to require a thorough background check – police officers or those who work with children, for instance.

The city still will require criminal background checks before someone is hired.

With the change Tacoma joins a growing list of cities and counties in what’s being called the “Ban the Box” movement. Late last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a law banning the box from job applications in the state.

“Eliminating the question ensures the qualifications rather than the conviction records are considered early in the hiring process,” said Joy St. Germain, the city’s human resources director.

City Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said a question on a job application asking about felony convictions can be daunting for people looking to move beyond their pasts and become productive members of society.

“Before an applicant even fills out an application they feel they won’t be equally considered, so they don’t even fill out an application,” Woodards said. The box is “a way to screen someone out before looking at the rest of the application.”

Banning the box can help the city look at a job candidate’s skills first and talk about criminal histories after extending a job offer. Hiring managers will consider the specific offense and whether it matters to the position the applicant seeks, St. Germain said.

“We won’t become a better society by continuing to find a way not to give people chances to get back on their feet,” Councilman Marty Campbell said. “We hire for their future and what they will bring to us, not what their past says.”

Pierce County banned the box in 2012 after guidance from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Like Tacoma, the county does background checks on potential employees, which include a criminal history, references and an employment check.

County deputy director for human resources Joe Carrillo said he doesn’t recall a case since the change in which a job seeker was turned away after managers learned of a criminal history.

In addition, the applicant pool has not significantly changed, he said.

“An employee coming to work for us generally knows they are going to be given some form of a background review,” Carrillo said. “… I think (applicants with offenses) know their history.

“Deep down inside, most of them know that they are probably not going to be successful.”