Criminal Record and Employment in Pennsylvania

What is the effect of a criminal record on a job applicant’s job search?  When can an employer use a jobseeker’s criminal record against him or her?  These are questions that a person charged or convicted of criminal offenses might wonder about.  

In Pennsylvania, an employer may fire an employee at any time for any reason, so long as that reason is not discriminatory (along with several other exceptions).  One of the notable exceptions to this rule is that a termination or denial of employment cannot be contrary to public policy.  In some cases, a denial of employment based on an applicant’s criminal record may be contrary to public policy, and hence a wrongful termination. 

 Pennsylvania  statutory law sets the following limitation on when an employer can reject an applicant based on criminal history.  18 Pa. C.S.A. 9125(b) sets forth the following:

"Felony and misdemeanor convictions may be considered by the employer only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant’s suitability for employment in the position for which he has applied."

As a practical matter, when does a criminal offense relate to a jobseeker’s suitability for employment?  Pennsylvania case law provides some answers.  In Port Authority v. Allegheny, an applicant for a bus driver position was denied employment because of his prior conviction for assault thirteen years earlier.  Port Authority v. Allegheny, 419 A.2d 631 (1980).  The Court held that the Port’s denial of employment may have constituted a wrongful discharge, and remanded the case to the trial court.  Id. 

In this case, the Court strongly suggested that a prior assault may not be a basis for denying employment to a bus driver.  

If you have been denied employment because of a prior conviction that does not relate to your job duties, you may have a claim for wrongful termination.  Knowing the basics of the law is a preliminary to getting the help you need.  

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Mr. Nikolaus Alexander Baikow

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