PDX Removing Barriers to Employment for Ex-Cons

The City of Portland, Oregon, is considering adopting an ordinance entitled “Removing Barriers to Employment” that would, in a nutshell, prohibit employers from inquiring into a job applicant’s criminal history until the employer gives the applicant a conditional offer of employment. At that point, the employer may rescind the conditional offer if the employer “determines in good faith that a specific offense or conduct has a direct relationship to a person’s ability to perform the duties or responsibilities” of the position for which she is being considered. In making this determination, the employer cannot consider an arrest not leading to a conviction (unless charges are pending or the crime is unresolved), expunged convictions, or charges that have been resolved through a diversion or deferral of judgment program. If the employer decides to rescind the offer, the applicant has two days to request reconsideration. If the employer violates the ordinance in any way, the employer could be subject to a civil penalty of no more than $1,000 for each violation. No private right of action would be created under the version of the ordinance I have reviewed.

I think this proposed ordinance is a step in the right direction, and the potential exposure to noncompliant businesses is onerous enough to make them take it seriously, but not so burdensome as to be draconian. As stated in the statement of legislative purpose, the reasons for adoption are extremely important:

“The purpose of this Chapter is: to remove barriers to employment so that people with criminal histories can provide for themselves and their families; to reduce disparate impacts on people of color that result from the use of criminal history information in hiring and employment decisions; and to reduce recidivism incarcerated persons into community life.”

These are real problems that affect us all, whether we have a criminal history or not, and especially for “early adopters” of cannabis. As Oregon leads the way in “freeing the weed,” it should also lead the way in remedial measures like this one. Although it may be burdensome on employers in the sense that it creates additional compliance issues and a possible civil penalty for noncompliance, the positive impact on folks who made mistakes in the past but have paid their debts to society will vastly outweigh any negative effect. Let’s welcome these folks back into society, and give them the opportunity to contribute in a positive way, rather than force them back into the shadows.