We hear it over and over again: one brush with the law and it is over. Employers will reject you out of hand, even if your criminal record is decades old, regardless of what you’ve done since, and without regard to whether the crime has anything to do with the job.

But in Pennsylvania, this type of discrimination is illegal. Under Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) an employer may use criminal histories only ”in accordance with this section,” 18 Pa.C.S. Section 9125(a). The section says, first, that an employer may consider felony and misdemeanor convictions only “to the extent to which they relate to the applicant’s suitability for employment in the position for which he has applied.” This means that an employer must make an individualized determination as to whether the conviction is related to the employment. It also means that summary offenses, arrests or charges resulting in an accelerated rehabilitative disposition may not be considered at all in an employment decision.  See, e.g., Foxworth v. Pennsylvania State Police, 228 F. App’x 151, 154-55 (3d Cir. 2007) and Commonwealth v. D.M., 548 Pa. 131, 137 n.2 (1997). CHRIA also requires that “the employer shall notify in writing the applicant if the decision not to hire the applicant is based in whole or in part on criminal history record information.” This provision is intended to give the applicant an opportunity to explain any criminal history or correct any errors on the public record. The law has teeth: applicants can recover damages and attorney fees if they prevail.

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