Waterloo City Council considers job bias based on criminal history
WATERLOO (KWWL) -
Waterloo City Council members are considering a new ordinance which would ban employers from discriminating against a potential employee based on their criminal history.
Among other things, the ordinance would make it illegal for employers to refuse to hire, or to fire, a person based on their criminal record. Some council members are concerned about the impact this would have on the business community. Human rights leaders believe it's not only a step, but a leap, in the right direction.
Michael Muhammad employs about fifteen people at his Waterloo radio station. When hiring, he may consider their taste in music, or more importantly, their desire to participate in the community. But one thing he doesn't emphasis is the amount of time they've spent behind bars.
"The mistakes that people make, the missteps that we have in our lives, are part of that which builds the character to help you become a better person in society. So I think it's important to give people an opportunity to prove they are not their mistakes," said Muhammad.
Abraham Funchess, the director of the Waterloo Human Rights Commission, is hoping to make Muhammad's personal policy a city-wide ordinance.
"It would add protection for those who are ex-offenders, who are trying to get employment here in the local jurisdiction of Waterloo," said Funchess.
The ordinance would prohibit an employer from ruling out a candidate based solely on their criminal history. There are provisions for seriousness of crime, time elapsed, and the relevance of the crime to the position for which they are applying (i.e. someone convicted of theft could be disqualified from working as a bank teller).
Some council members are concerned how the policy would impact the business community. Thursday, the city council decided to postpone putting the issue on the agenda. Council member David Jones said they want to take an appropriate amount of time to consider its ramifications and its rewards.
"It is cutting edge. And being cutting edge, we don't know what the full ramifications are for a city taking an action like this. Because from our prospective, it was very compelling. From a council prospective, I can only speak from my perspective, but it was an opportunity to start the dialogue with the larger community," said Jones.
It may take months to vote on the issue, but as Funchess points out -- at least the conversation has started.
"We realize we've started the dialogue in earnest now. We want to see where it takes us," he said.
We reached out to Steve Dust -- the CEO of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber for a prospective of the business community. He said the group has not formed a position on the proposed ordinance yet.
According to the Human Rights Commission, Waterloo would be among the first communities in the nation to adopt this sort of policy. This type of ordinance is place in a handful of states and communities -- including New York, and the city of Madison, Wisconsin.
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