Reminder: San Francisco’s tough ordinance that restricts asking about and using criminal records in employment and housing decisions starts August 13, 2014

Effective August 13, 2014, the Fair Chance Ordinance (the “FCO”) (see also the FCO FAQs) requires covered employers, contractors, and housing providers to review an individual’s qualifications before inquiring about his/her criminal history and follow strict rules for using the information.

The FCO applies to private employers that are located or doing business in the city and county of San Francisco, and employ 20 or more persons worldwide. This 20-person threshold includes owner(s), management, and supervisory personnel. The FCO covers positions (including contractor and other status) located within San Francisco, regardless of where the employer is located, as long as the position is “in whole, or in substantial part, within the city.” San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (the “OLSE”) interprets “in substantial part” to mean an average of eight hours of work performed per week in San Francisco.

Along with banning inquiries about a criminal history or pending charges on the job application or during the first live interview, the FCO prohibits asking about six categories of criminal record information altogether, and mandates significant measures for individualized assessment, including considering only “directly-related convictions that have a direct and specific negative bearing on the

[applicant’s] ability to perform the duties or responsibilities necessarily related to the position,” the time elapsed since the conviction, evidence of inaccuracy, evidence of rehabilitation and/or other mitigating factors.

An aspect of the ordinance that is especially noteworthy is that employers are prohibited from inquiring about or considering convictions that are more than seven years old, with “the date of conviction being the date of sentencing.” Under California law, there already is a seven-year limitation on such records, but the look-back period starts from the date that a person is released from custody. Also of note is that before taking any adverse action based on a criminal record, the ordinance requires that the employer wait seven days (from the date of the potential adverse action notice) before taking such action. If during the seven-day waiting period the individual gives the employer notice, orally or in writing, of evidence of an inaccuracy, rehabilitation, or any other mitigating factor, the employer must delay the adverse action for a “reasonable” time to reconsider the action.

Employers must also ensure that criminal background inquiries later in the process comply with the notice guidelines published by the OLSE, as well as with the already existing background check disclosure/authorization requirements under California’s ICRAA and the FCRA. Highlighted below are the ordinance’s more significant notice requirements:

  • Covered employers must post, in a conspicuous place at every workplace, including a temporary site, or other location in San Francisco under the employer’s control where applicants or employees visit, a notice of rights provided by the OLSE. The notice must be posted in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog and any other language spoken by 5% or more of the employees in the workplace, job site, or other location. (Translations of the notice in Chinese, Spanish, and Tagalog are available on the OLSE website.)
  • Employers must state in all job solicitations or advertisements that are reasonably likely to reach potential applicants seeking employment in San Francisco that the employer will consider qualified individuals with a criminal history.
  • Employers mustsendthe notice toeachlaborunionorrepresentative withwhomtheemployerhasacollectivebargainingagreementorotheragreementthatisapplicabletoemployeesinSanFrancisco.
  • Prior to any criminal history inquiry, including from procuring or conducting a background check, an employer must provide this notice to an applicant or employee when he/she is given the required FCRA/ICRAA disclosure and authorization form to sign.