Is this a good idea?
This story has been updated. See below.
Ride-hailing giant Uber is reconsidering its background check policy for drivers in California—and it’s not making it stricter.
In fact, Uber has decided to no longer reject applicants with records of certain non-violent or non-sexual offenses, such as petty theft and check fraud, the company told the Wall Street Journal. Presumably, Uber is loosening its stance only on certain misdemeanor—meaning, legally less severe—crimes, not felonies, though that’s not entirely clear.
The company also plans to provide more transparency to its application process by informing applicants when it rejects them due to criminal felony convictions. It will also direct them to steps they can take to reduce their criminal record under Proposition 47, a law that redefined certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and gives non-violent offenders an opportunity to reduce their conviction if they submit an application by Nov. 4, 2017. Uber might also refer them to organizations that help former inmates find work and readjust to life after incarceration.
“California voters told us when they overwhelmingly passed Proposition 47 that people with nonviolent, low-level offenses must be given a chance to get back on their feet. To do our part, we can make sure people have a fair chance to earn a living with Uber,” Uber chief security officer Joe Sullivan said via a statement the company later sent to Fortune. “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.”
Uber’s motivation for changing its policy isn’t exactly clear. While it would in theory allow it to hire more drivers including applicants it previously rejected, and therefore continue to compete with taxis and rival Lyft, the company told the Journal that it would only affect a small number of applicants. The company denied that it had any business or growth motivations.
This change is nevertheless bold given Uber’s history when it comes to screening its drivers. The company has come under fire a number of times following assault incidents that have revealed it has failed to catch the criminal records of some drivers. Critics have pointed out that unlike many taxi companies, Uber doesn’t use LiveScan, a service that includes fingerprinting and continuous criminal status monitoring. Instead, in California Uber uses Checkr, a startup that touts its ability to make background checks fast thanks to its online forms and ease of use.
There is an ongoing civil lawsuit against the company for its weak screening practices that have led to registered sex offenders, burglars, a convicted murderer, and others joining as drivers. The district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles are blaming Uber’s process for this.
In any case, Uber maintains that it will continue to reject applicants who have been convicted of any misdemeanor or felony driving, sexual, or violent crime, it told the Journal.
The story has been updated with a statement from Uber.