City seeks input on background check ordinance

The Gainesville City Commission has created a draft version of an ordinance that would change the way businesses in the city conduct background checks on potential employees.

The added rules—described as a “fair chance hiring” ordinance—are intended to change local hiring practices and help people with criminal records find employment. Under the draft ordinance, businesses with 15 or more employees would be barred from conducting background checks at the beginning of the hiring process or asking about criminal records in initial applications.

Once a business was ready to make an offer to a job candidate, they could conduct a background check at that point and base hiring decisions on its results, according to city officials.

The ordinance reflects the city’s own hiring practices, and would extend those requirements to the city’s businesses.

The draft ordinance would require businesses to provide copies of the background check to candidates and to tell the candidates in writing if the criminal background check resulted in them not getting hired.

Potential employees would have a chance to address their records with the employer, but the ordinance would not require businesses to hire people with criminal records.

The proposed ordinance also wouldn’t apply to jobs that require a clear criminal record, such as childcare workers.

The commission at its Thursday general policy committee meeting gave city staff direction on some elements of the ordinance and asked staff to take the draft ordinance to the Chamber of Commerce and the business community for input.

“I see this as a negotiation,” Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said. “We are not coming in with a hammer. We are coming in to work with them. Most of our businesses are small businesses who want to do right and fair by their employees.”

Several elements of the draft ordinance were debated Thursday, including how big a business had to be to trigger the requirements and whether or not businesses could consider arrests that didn’t result in convictions as part of the hiring process.

The city also discussed whether to give all or part of the fines to the job seekers who file grievances against businesses that didn’t follow the ordinance.

The draft ordinance along with comments from the community are expected to return to the commission in three months.

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