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Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards Ordinance

Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards Ordinance is also known as “Ban the Box.” City of Philadelphia recently joined a growing list of cities and states in the nationwide movement to ban inquiries into arrests and convictions on employment applications. More than twenty-five municipalities, such as Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, and San Francisco, have already enacted similar laws.

The Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards Ordinance is intended to encourage the hiring of qualified ex-offenders through the reduction of the potential for discrimination. The Ordinance also aims to reduce recidivism through the employment of qualified ex-offenders. The provisions of the Ordinance apply to all employers located within the City of Philadelphia, all City employees and all entities the City contracts with for goods and services.

The law, commonly referred to as ‘Ban the Box,’ prohibits employers from: (1) inquiring about convictions on the application or in the initial interview; and (2) making inquiries and any personnel decisions based on records of an arrest that did not result in a conviction. The Ordinance applies to City and private employers with more than ten employees but does not apply to Criminal Justice Agencies (for example, prisons, courts, police departments).

Key provisions of the Ordinance include:

  • Questions regarding criminal history may not appear on job applications.
  • Employers may not ask job applicants or current employees about arrests or criminal accusations where there has not been a conviction.
  • Employers may not ask an applicant about his or her criminal history during the application process.
  • Employers may ask about an applicant’s convictions after the first interview.
  • If necessary and appropriate, a criminal record check may be conducted after the employer has determined that the candidate is otherwise qualified for the position. The law provides that each violation is a “Class III” offense, subject to a fine of up to $2,000.

Exemptions to the Ordinance:

  • The Ordinance’s restrictions may not apply when employers are mandated by state or federal law to consider certain criminal histories of applicants. However, even where such mandates exist, most employers will be able to comply with both Ban the Box and the state or federal law by waiting until after the first interview to make criminal history inquiries; unless the state or federal law specifically requires that the inquiry be made on the employment application or during the first interview, employers are required to comply with Ban the Box.
  • All Criminal Justice Agencies are exempt from this ordinance. As a result, most agencies, facilities or departments that have as their principal function the administration of criminal justice are not subject to this Ordinance. These agencies include courts, police departments, detention and correction facilities, and probation agencies.

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) enforces the Ban the Box law. For more information call the PCHR at 215-686-4670 or visit the Commission’s website.