The ride-sharing service Uber says it will help non-violent ex-cons, including those charged with felonies, to get jobs as drivers in the Bay Area. While fighting a lawsuit filed by the district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles, claiming that the company's criminal background checks were not good enough to stop it from hiring a sex-offender, a convicted murder, and identity thieves, Uber has started letting people know about services like Expeal that help drivers get their charges expunged, sealed, dismissed, or downgraded.
As the world's most valuable startup, the fact they are looking to make it easier for drivers with criminal records to get jobs will hopefully set a trend that others follow. Uber's Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan stated that "we can make sure people have a fair chance to earn a living with Uber. Moreover, as a technology platform, we can focus on safety before, during and after each ride in ways that are more fair and effective than relying on criminal records alone."
If a person's job application is rejected as a result of a felony found on their background check, they will have a second chance if they can get their felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor. In fact, starting on February 1, Uber will go through the application of people who failed a criminal background check and see if they may qualify for a reduced charge under state law. Uber officials pointed out that a large number of applicants don't know they qualify to manage their criminal history.
The push for Uber came through Proposition 47, a measure that helped people with certain non-violent felony convictions have them reduced to misdemeanors. The National Employment Law Project, however, was not impressed. They say it does nothing to ensure prospective drivers are protected against unfair criminal background checks. It points to the lawsuit it is fighting in federal court in San Francisco, claiming Uber failed to get drivers' authorization to run background checks, a violation of fair credit-reporting laws.
The NELP, executive director, Christine Owens, argued that "Uber drivers with a criminal record will continue to suffer unfair treatment, and other taxi service companies that do comply with the law will be disadvantaged as well, if Uber persists in trying to dodge basic background check protections guaranteed to workers by federal, state, and local laws."
Uber, however, said that people who have been charged and convicted of crimes like check fraud and petty theft would no longer be flagged in their system, but somebody with a driving related charge like DUI would not be eligible. Uber is hoping most fall in the first category as they seek to build up their 39,000-strong workforce in the Bay Area.
People using Uber in Westwood, where the company has its headquarters, had mixed reactions. Driver Usama Fadel said "You don't want to ride with somebody in the front that has a criminal record that's absolutely out of the question." Rider Max Kim, countered, "If it's a non violent crime they should be able to drive because it's hard for people with records to get employment. If Uber allows these people to be hired it kind of gives them a way to get back up on their feet."