New Philadelphia Law Restricts Criminal Records Checks on Job Applications

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© jay clark -

By Celia Joseph

Earlier this month, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed the Fair Criminal Screening Standards Ordinance, which will change both the application and screening processes for entities with employees working in Philadelphia. This ordinance will become effective on July 12, 2011.

The new law establishes limits and requirements for the screening of criminal records by certain Philadelphia employers, and will likely change both the application and screening processes of many employers. This law generally prohibits unfair discrimination against persons previously arrested or convicted of one or more criminal offenses which are not then pending against the person.

The City of Philadelphia passed this law in the hopes that it will help qualified ex-criminal offenders obtain access to employment opportunities, reduce recidivism, increase public safety and stabilize city neighborhoods.

General requirements of screening standards

The new law will preclude city agencies and private employers employing 10 or more persons within the City of Philadelphia from the following actions when seeking to fill a job:

  • Making any inquiry regarding criminal convictions before and during the application process and initial interview process, or from requiring that applicants disclose such information; or
  • Inquiring about an individual’s arrests that did not result in convictions, unless such inquiry is required or permitted by another law.

It is expected that employers will be able to ask about criminal convictions and conduct a criminal background check once the initial interview is conducted. Employers are required to abide by the following standards when making a criminal background inquiry:

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  • Determine an applicant’s initial qualification for a position prior to conducting a criminal record check;
  • Consider the bearing, if any, that the criminal offenses for which a person was previously convicted will have on his or her fitness or ability to perform one or more of the duties and responsibilities of the position in question, as well as the elapsed time between the offenses and the potential employment, and the seriousness of the offenses;
  • Notify the applicant of any potential adverse employment action resulting from a criminal check, including specifying the part of the record check concerning the city or the county agency; and
  • Provide the applicant or the current employee an opportunity to present information rebutting the accuracy or relevance of the criminal record report, and to claim violation of this law.

Advice to employers

Employers who will be subject to the requirements of this law should review their employment applications used for employees in Philadelphia, as well as in cities with similar laws, to ensure that applications provided to applicants prior to or during initial interviews do not include questions about criminal convictions.

You should also begin the process of educating your hiring managers, human resources and recruiting professionals, including professionals located outside Philadelphia who recruit for, and supervise, jobs that will be filled in Philadelphia, regarding this new law to ensure that the recruiting and interviewing processes comports with it.

This was originally published on Fisher & Phillips’ Legal Alerts. A Legal Alert provides an overview of a specific city ordinance. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation.

Celia Joseph is Of Counsel in the Philadelphia office of the law firm Fisher & Phillips. She has deep U.S. and international employment law experience, and prior to joining Fisher & Phillips she founded an employment law firm and was employed for over 25 years as Assistant General Counsel, Employment Law Manager, and EEO/Diversity Manager at Rohm and Haas Company, a multi-national specialty materials company.

Contact her at .


3 Comments on “New Philadelphia Law Restricts Criminal Records Checks on Job Applications

  1. Well done Mayor Nutter.

    Criminal Records are one of the most significant reasons for re-offending rates – those with records are permanently denied access to lawful opportunities due employer discriminating against their bit of ‘previous’. The logic is simple – if you think the guy has served his sentence, then let him rejoin society as a full member. If not, don’t let him out. Let’s hope more municipalities follow the example set by Philadelphia.

    Best wishes


    1. Unfortunately I’m still being denied employment because of my criminal background and I haven’t been in trouble in over 15 years. Disassociated my former friends that helped me obtain my jail time and have changed my lifestyle completely, yet I still cannot gain employment to cover my cost of living. Then people wonder why people like me continue to be criminals?

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