The measure is similar to a law the Oregon Legislature passed earlier this year, which goes into effect in January.
The state law bans employers from asking people to disclose in initial job applications if they have a criminal record.
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ proposed law goes one step further, and would ban employers from asking people about past convictions or conducting record checks during the interview process.
That makes some employers uncomfortable. Gina Delahunt, the human resources director at Dave’s Killer Bread, said she wants candidates to feel comfortable discussing their personal history, including any past convictions.
“It’s very important to us that we’re able to have an open and honest dialog about their backgrounds, and we are evidence that that upfront dialog works,” Delahunt said. “For me, personally, I would hate to see that go away.”
About a third of the bakery’s employees have a criminal record, and it advocates for second-chance employment through the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation.
Delahunt said Dave’s Killer Bread wants to learn more about the proposed law before taking a position on it.
The mayor’s “ban the box” law would allow employers to ask about criminal history or run a background check after giving candidates a conditional job offer.
Hales said he believes the measure is critical to helping people restart their lives after serving time. He also said it would reduce recidivism.
“It is both an economic issue, a social justice issue, and a pubic safety issue,” he said.
Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president of the Urban League of Portland, was among those who spoke in favor of the law, which she said would help level the playing field for people of color.
“Eighty percent of Oregon’s black population lives in Portland, and black Oregonians are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white Oregonians,” she said.
Employers hiring for particularly sensitive positions would be permitted to investigate candidates’ records earlier in the hiring process.
The law makes exceptions for positions that involve direct access to children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, mental illness, or substance abuse disorders.
The proposed measure met with some initial skepticism from members of the council.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman questioned whether the bill was necessary, given the state’s “ban the box” law, and Commissioner Nick Fish pointed out that employers will likely notice gaps on candidates resumes.
“If there’s a big gap, that’s a red flag,” he said. “Are we encouraging a certain kind of profiling at the front end?”