Are you looking for information regarding background checks in Pennsylvania? Then you have found the right place! Our in-depth article gives you all the details you need to become an all-knowing background check guru.
Background Check Laws in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Right to Know Law is a conglomerate of legislation designed to ensure the public has access to any public records held by government bodies.
Interestingly, the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act was dubbed “the worst in the country” before 2008. This is because the pre-2008 Act assumed that governmental records were not public and would only be made available to those who could prove differently.
Thankfully, a law was signed and passed by Governor Ed Rendell on January 1, 2009, which stated that all government records are available to the public unless the agency holding them proves differently.
This Pennsylvania Right to Know Law sets out the definition of public records as “information, no matter the physical form or attributes, that defines activities/transactions of agencies that are held, made or kept by a company or agency”.
According to this law, any United States of America citizen can ask for public records without providing a statement of purpose. There aren’t any restrictions placed on the use of the records requested and agencies have a strict five-day limit to reply to document requests.
Having said that, an agency is allowed to issue an extension under Section 902(a)(7). The extension cannot be used to delay proceedings.
The Office of Open Records in Pennsylvania set up an Official Fee Structure which governs all charges relating to the requesting and copying of public records. Under this Structure and the RTKL (Right to Know Law), agencies can’t charge any extra fees unless they incurred necessary costs when retrieving the documents. Even then, the fee must be reasonable as stated in the legislation.
In cases where a different statute allows an agency to charge a certain amount for a specific record type, the agency cannot charge any more than the base figure. For instance, the 42 P.S. 21051 states that Recorder of Deeds can charge $0.50 per copy of an uncertified page and $1.50 for a copy of a certified document.
As per the RTKL, agencies can’t limit the number of times you can request records. However, it’s worth noting that you need to use “good judgment” when asking for documents. The law shouldn’t be used to harass or place unnecessary strain on an agency.
The Pennsylvania Right to Know Law sets out 30 exceptions that agencies can state to withhold records. At times, a separate regulation may come into place that causes agencies to withhold records from the requester. Not to mention that privileges (attorney-client, for example) can come into play at points too.
These 30 exceptions are designed to protect certain investigations and personal security. You can find all of these exceptions under Section 708 of the RTKL. Agencies have the right to withhold documents in the following circumstances:
- Disclosure of the record would result in the loss of state/government funds.
- Disclosure of the record would result in a risk of physical harm to an individual, group, or property.
- Records held by an agency in connection with homeland security, the military, or national defense.
- Records that would harm computer security if they were released.
- A record that defines the deliberations of agencies.
- And other situations found in Section 708.
Records that agencies might withhold under the 30 exceptions listed in the RTKL include the following:
- Personal home or cell numbers
- Social Security numbers
- Identity of confidential informants
- Marital status or dependent information
- DNA records
- A minor’s date of birth or home address
- Library circulation information
- Internal pre-decisional proceedings
- Personal medical and financial information
- Driver’s license numbers
- Employee numbers
The Pennsylvania Ban-The-Box Law
In Pennsylvania, a Ban-the-Box law is in place for public sector employers that are hiring for service positions (non-civil) under the governor’s decision.
The Ban-the-Box law means that an employer cannot ask about a candidate’s criminal history on the initial application form. The law differs from state-to-state. But in Pennsylvania, it applies to public sector employers only.
Alongside the Ban-the-Box law, the state’s fair hiring laws state that employers can only consider pending cases, misdemeanors, and felonies. Employers are not legally allowed to use non-convictions in any hiring decisions. Equally, they cannot use summary offenses either.
What Shows Up On a Background Check in Pennsylvania?
When you conduct a background check on a candidate, you gain access to a lot of information. Most of it is basic (date of birth, maiden name, etc.), however, there is a whole host of data that you could uncover. This includes the following:
- Identity verification
- Past employment and education
- Criminal records
The restrictions and laws placed on the use and acquisition of criminal records during a background check in Pennsylvania are rather detailed. Many of them pertain to certain types of criminal records, including the following:
- Arrest records — The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission prevents any public and private employers from using these to make hiring decisions. However, there are a couple of exemptions. One: the arrest led to a conviction. Two: there is a “business necessity” that makes arrest information non-negotiable.
- Sealed or expunged records — Employment-related decisions can’t be made using expunged or sealed records.
- Summary offenses — These include minor convictions like disorderly conduct, harassment, and loitering. They are still considered as criminal history, however, so they will probably show up on a background check in Pennsylvania. Employers are allowed to ask about them, but they can’t use them in any hiring decisions.
- Criminal records in general — The Human Relations Commission requires employers to think about the relevance, recency, severity, and number of convictions before they use them to make a hiring choice. If employers don’t comply with this, then they will be conducting an illegal act.
The exact information that could show up on a criminal background check in Pennsylvania includes the following:
- Case number
- Defendant and charge
- Filing date
- Offense degree (misdemeanor, for example)
- Disposition and date of disposition
What Does a Job Role Background Check Look For in Pennsylvania?
Depending on the job role you are applying for, your potential employer will be looking for different things. Generally speaking, they will be searching for identity verification, past employment, past education, and potentially, your criminal history.
As we mentioned above, employers in Pennsylvania are under strict obligations to fairly use any criminal information gained. They cannot discriminate against you if the felony or misdemeanor convictions happened years ago or are completely irrelevant to the job.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the state doesn’t require all employees to undergo background checks. The job position itself is highly related to the relevancy of a background check. For example, certain roles, like those in the education sector, require certain background check criteria. Generally, you’ll need to pass a Department of Human Services Child Abuse History Clearance test, along with the standard federal/state background check.
Additionally, the Philadelphia Code Chapter 9-1102 ensures employers in the Philadelphia region can’t use or ask for employee credit information. This includes even when firing, hiring, promoting, conditioning, or disciplining an employee. Although, a position could be exempt from this rule (rarely) under the Philadelphia Fair Practice Ordinance.
The Ordinance defines the aspects that employers need to consider when they’re evaluating the criminal record of a potential employee. These considerations are as follows:
- The offense nature
- How long it has been since the offense occurred
- Employment history before and after prison/jail time
- Employment history before and after the offense date
- The job duties
- Character or employment references are given by the candidate
- Evidence of the candidate’s rehabilitation after the conviction happened
As for a person’s salary history, an employer in Philadelphia can ask about it but they can’t use it to offer the individual a lower salary. This restriction came into effect following the Federal Court Case, Champer of Commerce v. City of Philadelphia (Case No. 17-1548). It’s best practice for employers not to ask about salary history to avoid any litigations.
For the majority of positions, employers are just trying to determine that you are who you say you are, and you haven’t provided any misleading information regarding past employment or education.
The Reasons Employers Run Background Checks in Pennsylvania
Aside from the reason stated above (i.e. verification of employment, education, and identity), there are a few other reasons behind employee background checks.
- Ensuring Safety in The Workplace
- Reducing the Risk of Workplace Theft
Employers must ensure that their staff, property, visitors, customers, and vendors are kept safe in the workplace. If they employ someone who is a risk to this safety, they could face serious accusations if anything goes awry.
Sadly, a lot of business theft is conducted from the inside. A background check allows employers to make well-informed hiring decisions (as long as they keep within the boundaries set out by the various Pennsylvania laws).
How Far Back Do Background Checks in Pennsylvania Go?
Typically, a background check report in Pennsylvania can’t detail any arrests that didn’t end in a conviction that are more than seven years old. However, if the job role has a yearly salary of over $75,000, these Fair Credit Reporting Agency laws don’t apply.
As far as convictions go, there aren’t restrictions. Regardless of when they happened, they can be reported on a background check. But, it’s important to note that any employers in Philadelphia aren’t allowed to use convictions older than seven years and cannot use non-convictions in hiring decisions when employing anyone in the city.
How Long Does a Background Check Take in Pennsylvania?
According to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, an agency has to deliver the request records within five days. If the agency, for some reason, cannot provide the records within this period, as long as they provide a written extension request within the five days.
This extension request must meet the guidelines set out in Section 902(a)(7) and cannot be used to delay proceedings. Suitable grounds for a 30-day extension include things like staffing limitations, legal reviews, off-site record location, or complex requests.
If the agency fails to respond at all, then the request is set as denied and you can appeal it with the Office of Open Records.
If your employer is using a third-party background check service, it can take between one and three days for the results to arrive.
How Long Does a Background Check Take For a Gun in Pennsylvania?
Federal law requires that all federally-licensed firearms sellers conduct a background check on an individual before they purchase a firearm. This national law allows certain states to opt into their point of contact deal. All point of contact states can perform their own background checks using federal and state databases. Alternatively, they can opt for the FBI to run them using the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System).
The PSP (Pennsylvania State Police) is a point of contact for the NCIS. In Pennsylvania, before a federally-licensed importer/dealer/manufacturer hands over a gun to an unlicensed individual, they must call the PSP and ask them to conduct a background check. This check includes:
- Juvenile delinquency history
- Mental health check
- Criminal history
- Fingerprint records
The seller and the purchaser must provide information that is required to ensure the identification of the buyer is correct. The seller can inspect the photo ID card before the transference.
The transaction must be withheld until the seller has been handed an approval number by the Pennsylvania State Police. Alongside this, the licensed dealer has to acquire no more than $2.00 from the buyer to cover the cost of the background check. The seller will then need to prove this has been collected to the PSP.
The seller can’t continue with the transaction if the State Police has placed a temporary delay on a person to figure out whether they have been convicted of a domestic violence act.
A firearms dealer has to consider the following extras when selling handguns, shotguns, or short-barreled rifles:
- The buyer must fill out a purchase application. A statement of proof is included on the form that has to be completed to ensure the buyer will be the holder of the weapon.
- The dealer has to mail the original application to the PSP after 14 days of the sale. The buyer needs to have a copy before sending it.
- The dealer has to keep a record of the approval number.
- If all background checks are passed, then the dealer has to deliver the firearm to the buyer unloaded and wrapped.
If a purchaser is denied a firearms transaction based on the background check, they can appeal it by writing to the Pennsylvania Attorney General. Should the Attorney General provide a less-than-desirable response, they can appeal it further in court.
How To Get a Background Check in Pennsylvania
Due to the Right to Know Law, anyone can access records held by public agencies, as we stated at the beginning.
Requesting records can be done via fax, email, U.S. mail, or in-person. Whichever method you choose, keeping a record is of utmost importance. Why? Because you will be able to produce if you have to file an appeal due to denial.
Here’s how to request information under the RTKL:
- Check with your local/Commonwealth Agency to figure out who the Open Records Officer is and whether the agency has its own request form.
- Use the Uniform Request Form to file a request.
- Address the request to the Open Records Officer (several agencies prefer the name Right to Know Officer).
- Be specific and concise in your request.
- Send your request!
If you’re an employer conducting background checks, it may be wise to use a third-party company. This will help you to streamline the hiring process. However, there will be extra fees incurred from the company performing the searches for you.
Can You Get Free Background Checks in Pennsylvania?
Volunteers requiring a criminal history record check are free in Pennsylvania. For anyone else, background checks aren’t free. Instead, you can expect fees of $5.00 to $22.00 depending on the type of information you’re accessing.