2020 | Government

Council passes bill that limits background checks until conditional job offer

Officials debate whether employers could ask about misdemeanor assault cases

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Montgomery County employers will be limited on what information they can seek about an applicant’s criminal history.

Under a bill the County Council unanimously approved, employers can no longer check an applicant’s background until a conditional job offer is made. They are also prohibited from asking about certain crimes.

The legislation expands the county’s current “Ban the Box” law, which prevents employers with at least 15 full-time employees from doing criminal background checks of applicants and asking about criminal or arrest history before a first interview.

The expansion changes the law to include employers with at least one full-time or part-time employee and limits an employer’s ability to ask about specific criminal or arrest history before a conditional job offer.

Employers will not be able to check applicants’ arrest records that didn’t result in convictions, or any arrest or convictions records for trespassing and disturbing the peace.

The expanded law also prohibits inquiries into any records of misdemeanor convictions if at least three years have passed since conviction and incarceration ended. Confidential and expunged records are also covered.

County Executive Marc Elrich must create regulations to inform prospective employees and employers of their rights and responsibilities under the expanded law.

Although the bill passed unanimously, the council was split on one detail — whether the first misdemeanor conviction of second-degree assault should be included in the list of crimes that an employer can’t ask about or consider.

Council Member Gabe Albornoz said a number of domestic violence cases involve misdemeanor second-degree assault because it’s often the only charge that can be proven.

“It’s an escalating crime,” he said. “The [prevalence] of it and disproportionality of the number of convictions involving domestic violence give me pause. That’s why the inability for an employer to consider it at all is of concern to me because of the amount of domestic violence cases.”

Council Member Craig Rice said some residents might be nervous about people who might not have been rehabilitated and might reoffend.

“[Reoffense] does happen ,” he said. “Let me be clear: It does happen.”

But Council Member Will Jawando said second-degree assault also includes many other things besides domestic violence.

“It can include a fight and it can include other things that some of us might have been involved in in our youth that didn’t result in a conviction,” he said. “So while I understand the concern … I think we struck the right balance that we limited it to the first offense. If there were two offenses or if there was a felony, it could be asked about.”

The council voted 5-4 to remove second-degree assault, as a first offense , from the list of crimes that an employer can’t ask about.

Council President Sidney Katz and Council Members Nancy Navarro and Andrew Friedson joined Albornoz, and Rice in voting in favor of removing it from the list of crimes protected from inquiries in the bill.

Council Vice President Tom Hucker and Council Members Evan Glass and Hans Riemer voted with Jawando against the amendment to remove it.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.