Pennsylvania Background Checks [What Employers Need to Know]

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Background checks are crucial for personnel decisions such as hiring, retention, promotion, or reassignment of employees. It’s not deemed illegal if the employer is interested in the employee’s work, education, and criminal background (here’s what that entails) but they have to be discreet about their findings and use them solely for the business environment.

These checks can be conducted during the employment process or, if need be, at a later date for any existing employee. The most common search parameters in Pennsylvania background checks are the employee’s full name, date of birth, Social Security number, current residence address, state, and email. Another necessary condition is their consent to conduct the background check.

What Kind of Information Will Show up on a Pennsylvania Background Check?

A Pennsylvania background check report usually contains:

  • Identity verification
  • Former education and employment verification
  • Criminal history

The PA background check policy demands that the report exclude arrest records that didn’t lead to a conviction if they took place more than 7 years ago. Unless the position has a salary of over $75,000 annually.

What’s more, some positions, e.g. those in the educational sector, come with clearances. The Department of Human Services issues the Child Abuse History Clearance and runs a state and federal criminal records check.

Policies differ in various places in Pennsylvania. For example, in Philadelphia, you can’t use the candidate’s credit history information in the pre-employment process. The exception to this is if the vacancy involves supervision, management, financial or judiciary responsibilities, or duties involving handling sensitive financial data or proprietary information.

Pennsylvania Criminal Background Checks: How Do They Differ?

Laws enforcing state, federal, or county background checks vary widely across the US states.

In Pennsylvania, as well as in New York, employers can’t consider the applicant’s criminal history unless there’s a direct bearing of the applicant’s previous criminal offenses on the position. Still, if an employer discovers information regarding the applicant’s criminal record, this information may be used to decide whether or not to hire the applicant.

Employers must provide a written notice to the applicant who failed to be employed if the failure is a result of their Pennsylvania criminal history report. Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Oklahoma have the same law.

Finally, in the public sector, employers aren’t allowed to inquire about the applicant’s criminal history information on the job application for non-civil service positions.

Interestingly, Alabama, Arkansas, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming have no laws or regulations on background checks and employment history.

In New Hampshire, New York, and Washington, consumer reporting agencies are prohibited from including information that is older than 7 years when generating state background checks for employers. Exceptions include transactions involving $50,000 or more, life insurance policies of $50,000 or more, and cases in which the employment position has an annual salary of $20,000 ($25,000 for New York) or more.

In other states, public employers cannot inquire about or consider an applicant’s criminal or credit information until after an initial job interview or after making a conditional employment offer. This law is enforced in Arizona, Delaware, Washington D.C., Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont. 

Similarly, in Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, employers may only inquire about an applicant’s criminal history information on the condition that the applicant is eligible and is seriously considered for the position.

Various US states have criminal history laws that differ to some extent from the Pennsylvania background check law.

  • In California, misdemeanor marijuana convictions that happened more than 7 years ago cannot be reported.
  • Employers in Kansas may conduct criminal background checks as a condition of employment.
  • In Maine’s public sector, when filling up a position in the state government, employers are prohibited from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history on the application form, while in Connecticut, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Massachusetts, this applies to all employers, except in a few specific cases.
  • In case of a job application for Executive Branch positions in the public sector in Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, and Missouri, employers are also prohibited from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history, unlike Pennsylvania that allows a criminal background check.
  • In Massachusetts and New Jersey, no employer can ask applicants to disclose information about sealed or expunged criminal records.
  • All employers are prohibited from maintaining information about applicants’ misdemeanor arrests, detentions, or dispositions that did not result in convictions in Michigan, Minnesota, California, and Illinois. Background check companies may still report on felony charges even if they’ve not yet resulted in either conviction or dismissal.
  • Consumer reporting agencies are prohibited from reporting criminal record information that is older than 7 years in Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, New York, and California.

  • Consumer reporting agencies in Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Maryland, and California are prohibited from reporting criminal record information that is older than 7 years and bankruptcies with judgment dates that are more than 14 years old.
  • The Pennsylvania employment background check law is different from other common laws regarding credit checks in other US states.

  • In California and Colorado, employers can only use credit reports to make employment decisions when taking on staff for specific positions.
  • The District of Columbia, Oregon, and Illinois prohibit employers from asking for the applicant’s credit history when making employment decisions. Some exceptions apply.
  • Vermont and Washington forbid their employers to disqualify the applicant based on their credit information. Employers can’t request a credit report if the law doesn’t require such action.
  • Nevada’s laws protect the applicants from being disqualified from the job selection if they don’t consent to a credit report.
  • Consumer reporting agencies in Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, and New York are prohibited from reporting bankruptcies with judgment dates that are more than 14 years old.

What Criminal Record Information Is Unlawful for an Employer to Use?

Pennsylvania criminal record laws restrict the use of criminal background checks for employment purposes. This includes the following criminal record information:

Arrest Records 

Employers can’t use arrest records for their employment decisions. They can use them only on the condition that the arrest resulted in a criminal conviction and if the nature of the job position requires such information.

Removed or Sealed Records

Employers mustn’t use or make decisions based on potential employees’ expunged or sealed records during the hiring process.

Criminal Records

While employers aren’t prohibited from using criminal records in the employment process, they must consider how serious, recent, and repetitive the felonies are and if they are connected to the prospective job post.

Summary Offences 

Employers shouldn’t review summary offenses on background check reports (i.e., minor convictions or disqualifying offenses) in their employment-related decisions. Simultaneously, however, candidates should disclose them if asked about their criminal history during their job applications.

Ban the Box

Pennsylvania has adopted the ‘ban the box’ policy, which advises employees to consider the candidate’s qualifications first instead of their criminal and arrest records. Allegheny County, Allentown, Bethlehem, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Reading are the jurisdictions that prohibit public employers from inquiring into the criminal records of their job applicants. Philadelphia is the only state whose ‘ban the box’ policy extends to private employees as well. In all of these jurisdictions, employers are allowed to run a background check only after selecting the potential employees or sending them conditional offers of employment.

What Other Information is an Employer Prohibited From Inquiring About?

Other information-related prohibitions for employees that have to do with running a PA background check for employment are:

  • PA employers can’t run disability tests on applicants unless it pertains to the job specifications.
  • Conducting genetic tests on employees may not be allowed on a local level. However, Pennsylvania hasn’t adopted any law related to the use of genetic information that differs from federal law.
  • Pennsylvania’s employers may decide to deny employment if the applicant has declared bankruptcy or has filed for bankruptcy protection since no law says otherwise.
  • Pennsylvania background checks that discover individuals with a medical cannabis card cannot be used as a basis for discrimination by employers.
  • A check via the E-Verify system is mandatory for certain contractors and subcontractors on public works projects.
  • Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have requirements related to pre-employment screening and testing.

Why FCRA Compliance Matters

Many background check companies collect information about an individual’s past whereabouts and sensitive personal information. When using the collected information from the state background checks, you must make sure that you comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) enforced by The Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Moreover, you must abide by the FCRA and the federal nondiscrimination laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That’s why it’s important to check how you can use the information you find during a background check for employment purposes depending on the state.

Namely, you must not discriminate based on people’s race, color, religion, origin, sex, disability, medical history, and age (40+). For instance, asking only employees of a particular color about their criminal records is definitely an act of discrimination. The same refers to asking a person for medical information before starting work. This can only be justified if their health condition seems to interfere with performing their duties.

Once you’ve decided to run a background check on somebody, you must notify them in writing, and they must give their consent so that you can approach a background check company, which needs to operate under the FCRA.

If your decision is unfavorable for the employee, you must provide them with a copy of the Pennsylvania background check report on which you based your decision on. You should also give them a copy of a summary of your rights under FCRA from the company that prepared the report for you. On the other hand, the employee has the right to dispute the report’s accuracy, explain any negative information, and get an additional free report within 60 days.

You may face legal repercussions for using illegal, discriminatory hiring practices and risk becoming entangled in civil lawsuits, which can affect your business’s financial standing and harm your company’s reputation.

Best Background Check Companies to Use in Pennsylvania

Now, let’s go over background check companies in Pennsylvania that you can use.

Employment Background Investigations, Inc. (EBI) – Best for ATS Integrations

EBI has been one of the most prominent players in the background check industry for almost 12 years and has the capacity to service any company’s needs for a PA criminal record check or any kind of pre-employment check. They provide you with the following data:

  • County, state, national, federal, and FBI fingerprint records
  • Identity checks (SSN, full name, address, date of birth verification)
  • Sex offenders registries
  • Motor vehicles records
  • Credit reports
  • Healthcare sanction reports
  • International Homeland Security records
  • Workers compensation records
  • Civil records
  • Education and employment history
  • Professional references check
  • Military service records
  • Professional licenses and certification
  • Social media check
  • COVID-19 testing
  • Drug testing
Pros 
  • A+ for customer service
  • Dedicated account manager
  • Timely checks, even with county delays due to COVID-19
  • Plenty of pre-built ATS integrations
Cons
  • Pricing is not disclosed on their website

Business Information Group (BIG) – Best for Financial Services Firms 

BIG’s stellar reputation is based on its long history of offering customized solutions to solve the industry’s screening challenges. It’s been on the market for 20 years and provides accurate and reliable data from their checks such as the PA criminal background check, fingerprint check, drug check, etc. It runs searches and provides reports from:

  • Fingerprint databases
  • Identity checks (SSN, address, full name, date of birth)
  • County, state, national, and federal criminal records
  • Civil registries
  • Driving records
  • Drug checks
  • Credit checks
  • Work and educational background
  • Professional and personal references
  • International screening
  • Professional license verification
  • Sexual offender registry
  • Motor vehicle records
  • News/media publication search
  • Securities screening services
  • Insurance industry screening services
Pros
  • Secure collection and transmission of fingerprints
  • Quick turnaround time
  • Improves print quality
  • Tracking of each fingerprint submission online
Cons
  • Occasional inaccurate information

Capital Drug & Background Screening – Best for Drug Screening 

The packages are custom-designed to meet the specific needs of different businesses and industry segments. You can add or remove parameters to run the best credit, drug, or criminal background check for PA residents. It compiles information from:

  • Identity check (SSN, full name, residence)
  • Drug and alcohol tests
  • Integrity and aptitude tests
  • DNA testing
  • Business credit reports
  • Education and employment history
  • County and federal criminal reports
  • Sex offender registry search
  • Motor vehicle search
  • Commercial Driver’s License Information System
  • MedEx Complete search
  • Reference verification
  • Professional license verification
  • Credit reports search with FICO score
Pros 
  • Fast results and round-the-clock access
  • Quality information from comprehensive databases
  • Regulatory protection
  • Competitive pricing
Cons
  • Slow service at times

Corporate Investigations, Inc. (CII) – Best for Tailored Background Check

CII runs various checks such as a Pennsylvania criminal history check, a credit check, a drug screen, a driving record search, etc. Employers can also run periodic checks on their employees. The company helps employers accomplish their goals of taking on the best candidates by extracting information from:

  • Criminal Records Checks
  • Identity checks (SSN)
  • I-9 Employment Verification (E-Verify)
  • MVR Searches
  • Government Sanctions Checks
  • Education, Employment, and Professional License Checks
  • Reference Checks
  • Employee Credit Checks
  • Drug Screening
  • Bankruptcy History Checks
  • Live Civil Record Checks
  • Worker’s Compensation Checks
  • Terrorist watchlist
Pros 
  • Provides 24/7 online retrieval of information
  • No start-up, maintenance, or annual fees
  • High accuracy
  • Serves nine industries
Cons
  • Delays in customer support services

First Contact HR – Best for Customized Packages

First Contact HR, being among the leaders in Pennsylvania background checks and human resource solutions, provides national and international employers with accurate information in less than 60 minutes. Thus, they reduce risk and help employers hire the most talented and secure applicants. They collect data from:

  • Identity verification (SSN, address history)
  • County, national, state, and federal criminal reports
  • Sex offender registries
  • Employment and education verification
  • Driving license records
  • Credit reports
  • The Fraud and Abuse Control Information System (FACIS™) Level I, II, and III reports
  • Motor vehicle reports
  • International criminal records searches
  • Multi-jurisdictional database searches
  • Photo identification badges
  • Professional license verification
  • Reference verification
  • Terrorist watchlist
  • Financial sanctions research
  • Government database search
  • Cyber searches
  • Fingerprint searches
  • Drug testing
Pros
  • A comprehensive suite of pre-employment background screening
  • Most reports are available in 24-48 hours
  • High level of precision
  • Competitive pricing for packages
Cons 
  • Occasional delays in services

Wrap Up

PA citizens may inquire about Pennsylvania background checks for various reasons. These criminal records are maintained in the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository and the district and state courts. All Pennsylvania citizens have a right to view such records, and we hope that this article has given you an overview of the companies you can use to get access to them

FAQ

How far back do background checks in Pennsylvania go?

The seven-year rule applies to background checks in Pennsylvania; no criminal records of arrests that took place more than seven years ago are taken into consideration, no matter whether they resulted in convictions or not.

What does a PA criminal background check show?

A PA criminal background check may contain conviction reports, criminal checks, disposed criminal reports, and some traffic reports from the Pennsylvania Magisterial District Courts as well as felony and misdemeanor convictions from the Courts of Common Pleas. When it comes to sex offender registries, the report will include any registered convicted sex offenders on parole, probation, incarcerated or convicted.

How do I get a criminal background check in PA?

Pennsylvania offers a digital system for criminal records available to all PA citizens called the Pennsylvania Access To Criminal History or PATCH. When residents request Pennsylvania background checks, they can have the complete history notarized to serve them for various purposes such as visa application, adoption, international employment, and more.

ABOUT AUTHOR

When I’m not writing at my desk, I’m devoted to ESL teaching and doing certified court translation. A vivid writer, a keen traveler, and an adventurous soul as curious as humanity. The world is my oyster.

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