Whether you are a small business employing just a few people or a larger company, you should review your employment application, job postings and interview practices.

Washington state’s Fair Chance Act offers job seekers from all backgrounds a chance to fairly compete for job opportunities. This is important because according to the Bureau of Justice statistics, approximately 77 million, or 1 in 3 American adults, have a criminal record or are “justice involved.”

The “ban the box” bill was signed into law as the Fair Chance Act in June 2018. With few exceptions, the law prohibits employers from asking job applicants about arrests or convictions until after the employer has determined the applicant is otherwise qualified. And there are penalties for violating the WFCA. The state Attorney General’s Office has the authority to investigate and assess fines, including penalties, costs, and attorneys’ fees. The maximum penalties are a fine of $750 for the second violation and a fine of $1,000 for each subsequent violation.

WFCA also changes the way employers can advertise. Want ads cannot include the phrases “no felons” or “no criminal background.” Job applications can no longer include a check box next to criminal history. Likewise, an employer can’t ask about criminal history before they’re ready to make an offer. This doesn’t mean an employer can’t ask about someone’s background; it means an employer must initially determine an applicant is qualified before they make further inquiry.

There are some exceptions to the WFCA. It does not apply to employers hiring someone who will or may have unsupervised access to children, vulnerable adults, or vulnerable persons; Washington law enforcement or criminal justice agencies; financial institutions, national or registered securities entities, or other employers who are permitted or required by law to ask about and consider information about an applicant’s criminal record for employment purposes; or employers seeking non-employee volunteers. (For more information, go to https://www.atg.wa.gov/fair-chance-act.)

The state also offers incentives for employing justice-involved candidates: the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Bonding Program.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit offers incentives for hiring individuals who were convicted of a felony and hired within a year after their date of conviction, work release, or release from prison or jail. Under this program, if an employee works at least 120 hours a year, a company can claim a 25 percent tax credit of their first year’s wages and 40 percent if he or she works 400 hours. The amount of credit varies from $2,400 to $9,600 depending on the individual hired. (Learn more at esd.wa.gov/WOTC.)

The Bonding Program protects employers against employee theft, forgery, larceny and embezzlement. It provides 100 percent coverage and has no deductible. Six-month bonds are issued in increments of $5,000 up to a total of $25,000 (based on the potential loss an employer might incur). Paperwork is minimal for both the job seeker and employer (esd.wa.gov/about-employees/federal-bonding).

The goal of the Fair Chance Act, Work Opportunity Tax Credit and Bonding Program is to help job seekers from all backgrounds become self-sufficient and to reward employers who give them a chance. For information about justice involved individuals and workforce development, contact Teresa Sparks at 509-406-1688 or via email at tasparks@esd.wa.gov.

Michelle Smith is an employer engagement analyst for the South Central Workforce Development Council in Yakima.