Philadelphia Restricts Pre-Offer Criminal Record Screenings

December 17, 2015

By amending relevant sections of the Philadelphia Code, the City of Philadelphia has further limited employers’ ability to conduct criminal background screenings during the hiring process.

The City of Philadelphia has amended Chapter 9-3500 of the Philadelphia Code (Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards), which governs when and to what extent an employer may consider an applicant or prospective employee’s criminal history. The amendment restricts when an employer may inquire about criminal history during the application process and prevents consideration of incidents that did not result in a criminal conviction.

In its original form in 2012, the Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards ordinance prevented employers from including questions about criminal convictions on job application forms. The revisions implemented on December 15 by Mayor Michael Nutter take that a step further by prohibiting inquiries about an applicant’s criminal past until after the employer extends a conditional offer of employment. Only after a conditional offer is extended can employers conduct a background check, which can only reach back a maximum of seven years.

If a background check identifies criminal activity about an applicant after a conditional offer of employment has been extended, the employer must weigh several factors when deciding whether to hire the applicant. Specifically, the amendment mandates that employers weigh the nature of the crime, the time that has passed since the offense, and the job duties at issue. Should the employer choose to withdraw the conditional offer, the applicant must be notified in writing and provided a copy of the criminal record.

Mayor Nutter also signed an executive order comprehensively addressing background checks for city employment. The order requires the city to compile and publish a list of sensitive positions and barrier convictions, and provides applicants with the opportunity to respond to background check results.

Philadelphia employers should be aware that they now face additional scrutiny when conducting background checks and are required to delay them until after extending a conditional offer. Employers must also adhere to these new factors set forth in the Philadelphia Code when determining whether a background check provides grounds to withdraw an offer.