Guide to Pennsylvania Background Checks

Danielle Hubein
March 15, 2023
9 min read

Pennsylvania employers may use a Pennsylvania background check for employment to verify a candidate’s qualifications during the hiring process. Screening candidates by conducting a background check can help employers make informed hiring decisions and in some instances a PA criminal background check may be required by law.

Pennsylvania employers can choose to screen candidates on their own or partner with a qualified consumer reporting agency (CRA). No matter the type of background screening, it is important for employers to comply with federal, state, and local laws. This guide to PA background checks for employment reviews the details of what background checks may include, how they are to be conducted, and which laws may apply.

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What is a Pennsylvania background check?

A Pennsylvania background check is often used by employers in both public and private sectors as part of their screening process for candidates and volunteers. They can verify information provided on a resume or job application, such as employment or education, and can help ensure their qualifications for the role.

In some cases, such as jobs that work with children or the elderly, a criminal background check in Pennsylvania may be required by law. Other types of screenings may also be mandatory such as motor vehicle reports for positions regulated by the Department of Transportation or credit checks for candidates with financial responsibility.

Common Pennsylvania background checks

Pennsylvania employers may choose to conduct several types of screenings. A background check in Pennsylvania can include:

  • Criminal background checks to search a candidate’s criminal history, which may include federal, state, and county records to report felony or misdemeanor convictions.
  • Employment verification to verify previous employers, positions held, length of employment, and identify any employment gaps.
  • Professional reference checks to conduct interviews with past employers to obtain information about a candidate’s previous employment experience.
  • Education verification to validate a candidate’s educational background, including schools attended, dates of attendance, and degrees earned.
  • Civil court checks to learn about non-criminal claims, judgements and suits.
  • Motor vehicle records (MVR) checks to search an applicant’s driving history, including license class and status, any safety-related incidents such as accidents, moving violations, or vehicle-related criminal convictions like DUIs.
  • Drug testing to screen for the presence of alcohol and controlled substances to promote a safe workplace.

Pennsylvania State Police background check

The Pennsylvania State Police maintain the Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History (PATCH) online database which contains information about arrests and convictions in Pennsylvania. PATCH is regularly used by law enforcement agencies to check individuals’ criminal histories and is also used for Pennsylvania State Police background checks. A Pennsylvania State Police background check is required for individuals with access to vulnerable populations, such as school employees, contractors that work with children, foster and adoptive parents, and elder care providers.

Employers may request information from PATCH as part of a background check, but should note the information reported will only include what is maintained by the database. It may not include information from other law enforcement agencies in the state, and out-of-state or federal offenses. Checkr may use PATCH information as a pointer search during a state background check, but due to legal constraints will not surface the PATCH report itself.

FBI background check in Pennsylvania

Candidates applying for roles with access to children or other vulnerable populations are required by law to undergo FBI background checks in PA. In addition, applicants for licenses in certain types of finance roles are also required to get an FBI criminal record check.

Volunteer background check in Pennsylvania

Volunteers at Pennsylvania departments and organizations who work with children, seniors, or at-risk individuals are required to have a volunteer background check in PA. This includes a PA State Police background check, along with several other types of criminal background checks that must be conducted directly through state and federal agencies.

Pennsylvania gun background check

A PA Gun background check is conducted through the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS), an electronic database that enables gun dealers and law enforcement officials to determine if a potential buyer is legally barred from purchasing a firearm due to past convictions, fugitive status, or other disqualifying reasons. This type of screening is not included in a pre-employment background check and is not offered by Checkr.

Pennsylvania Childline background check (“Child Abuse History Clearance”)

New hires at public and private schools, child care facilities, and contractors are required by Pennsylvania Child Protective Services to undergo three types of screenings to check for child abuse and other criminal activities. The screening includes a Pennsylvania State Police background check, FBI background check, and Pennsylvania Childline background check. These checks must be updated every 5 years and applications can be submitted on the Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Portal or through the mail.

How far back does a Pennsylvania background check go?

There are generally no Pennsylvania state laws restricting how far back criminal convictions can be reported on a criminal background check. However, the Pennsylvania Clean Slate law has an expansive system of both petition based and automated records sealing, prohibiting public access to a majority of non-conviction arrests and most misdemeanor convictions more than 10 years old.

In Pennsylvania, motor vehicle records are not generally restricted. However, for employment purposes, a 10-year driving record may be requested which includes most driving incidents, except for DUI or other types of vehicle-related felonies. Such convictions may remain on the driving record permanently.

Information found on credit reports is generally not limited to any look back time limit in Pennsylvania, with the exception of the city of Philadelphia where a local fair hiring ordinance prohibits employers from using a candidate’s credit history in relation to a hiring decision.

Pennsylvania employers who partner with a CRA to conduct background checks must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA restricts non-conviction information reported by a CRA to a 7-year lookback period which includes arrests, civil judgments, tax liens, and most credit report information. It excludes bankruptcies, which may be reported for up to 10 years and criminal convictions which may be reported indefinitely. If a candidate’s expected salary is $75,000 or higher or if searches are conducted by the employer themselves, these limitations may not apply.

How to run Pennsylvania background checks for employment

Employers can run a Pennsylvania background check for employment directly by requesting records from law enforcement agencies and contacting previous employers or educational institutions, but this can become a time-consuming and tedious process. Partnering with a trusted CRA, like Checkr, can save valuable time and ease the administrative burden while providing more accurate and comprehensive reporting. Additionally, advanced technology can help enable employers’ compliance with Pennsylvania background check requirements.

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Pennsylvania state background check laws

In Pennsylvania, employers should remain compliant with federal, state, and local Pennsylvania background check laws when conducting pre-employment screenings. These may include local Ban the Box laws (see “County Resources,” below) that help protect job candidates from discrimination during the hiring process – especially when information is discovered in a Pennsylvania criminal background check. Below are additional laws that impact background checks in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act

Summary: Under this law, both public and private sector employers are not permitted to refuse to hire people with criminal records outright. They must only look at felony and misdemeanor convictions and disregard other types of offenses that did not lead to convictions. They also are required to assess if the conviction during a PA criminal background check will specially affect a candidate’s ability to do the job. See law.

Pennsylvania Fair-Chance Hiring Human Resources Policy

Summary: Under this policy, which is a Ban the Box provision, employers are not allowed to inquire about a candidate’s criminal history on applications related to public service jobs in state departments that fall under the governor’s authority. However, these employers can conduct a PA criminal background check once a conditional offer of employment has been extended. If information surfaces on the report, the job offer can be rescinded but only if what was found directly affects the job in question. See law.

Pennsylvania Clean Slate Law

Summary: Clean Slate 1.0 (2018) and 2.0 (2021) are large-scale record clearing laws. These laws seek to ensure that a majority misdemeanor criminal convictions older than ten years are automatically blocked from PA criminal background checks. Additionally, many other charges, potentially not removed, cannot be used to make any type of hiring decisions. See laws.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Summary: Pennsylvania employers conducting a  background check with a CRA must remain in compliance with the FCRA requirements. These include the proper disclosure of intent to conduct a background check, obtaining written consent from the candidate, and following the adverse action process when you choose not to hire a candidate based on information that was found during a background check. See law.

If you are unsure of the applicable federal, state, or local Pennsylvania background check laws, your organization may wish to comply with the strictest laws to avoid potential liability.

County resources

Use this information to find county resources and local Ban the Box laws in your area.

Allegheny County

Allegheny County is located in southwestern Pennsylvania and is home to more than 1.2 million residents. It is the second-most populous county in the state and the city of Pittsburgh is its largest city. Historically, it was the heart of America’s steel industry, and today the county’s top industries include education, healthcare, and technology. There are many colleges and universities, including Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Public Information & Records

  • Ban the Box laws apply to county employers in Allegheny County and contractors and city employers in Pittsburgh.

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Bucks County

Bucks County, Pennsylvania’s fourth-most populous county, has more than 646,000 residents. Key industries include industrial manufacturing, biotechnology, and waste management. There are many major companies headquartered in Bucks County, including Burpee Seeds, Rita’s Italian Ice, and Waste Management. Tourism is also important to the region, with historic attractions, arts and culture, state parks, and scenic drives.

Public Information & Records

Chester County

Located in southeastern Pennsylvania Chester County has a population of more than 534,000 residents. Valley Forge National Historical Park along with several state-protected parks and preserves are located in the county. Several large corporations call Chester County home, including QVC, Ricoh Americas, J.G. Wentworth, and The Vanguard Group. There are also many colleges and universities.

Public Information & Records

Delaware County

Nicknamed Delco, Delaware County has a population of more than 575,00 people and is Pennsylvania’s fifth-most populous county. It borders Philadelphia County and is part of the larger Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington area. It has several nationally- and state-protected areas including parks and a wildlife refuge. There are many colleges and universities, including Haverford College and Villanova University.

Public Information & Records

Erie County

Located in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania, Erie County has a population of more than 270,000 people and borders Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. There are many outdoor recreation areas, including two state parks on the shores of Lake Erie. Erie County is also home to many other activities, including a zoo, a casino, environmental center, museums, theater, and waterpark.

Public Information & Records

Lackawanna County

Located in Pennysyvania’s northeast region, Lackawanna County is home to more than 215,000 people. Major cities include Scranton and Carbondale. Its key industries are education services, healthcare, and manufacturing, with mining still a small part of the county’s economy.

Public Information & Records

Lancaster County

Known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster County has more than 550,000 residents. Its large Amish community makes the county a major tourist destination in Pennsylvania. The county has numerous protected areas, including state parks, forests, hunting game lands, and nature preserves. It's also a national leader in farmland preservation. Key industries include agriculture and manufacturing, and the county is home to many major corporations, including Pepperidge Farm and Tyson Foods.

Public Information & Records

  • Ban the Box laws apply to all public sector employers in the city Lancaster.

Lehigh County

Lehigh County has nearly 375,000 residents. Its county seat is Allentown, which is also the state’s third largest city. The county has several colleges and universities. There are also amusement parks, fairs and festivals, parks, zoos, and many arts and culture activities. Key industries include manufacturing and technology, and Mack Trucks has its headquarters in the county.

Public Information & Records

  • Ban the Box laws apply to city employers in Allentown and Bethlehem.

Montgomery County

A suburb of Philadelphia, Montgomery County has more than 850,000 residents and is the third-most populous county in Pennsylvania. Its largest city and county seat is Norristown, and the county is a mix of rural farmland and suburban neighborhoods. Many residents work in Philadelphia, but the county is also home to many large healthcare and pharmaceutical companies including, Aetna, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Merck, Pfizer, and Quest Diagnostics.

Public Information & Records

Philadelphia County

Philadelphia County has a population of more than 1.6 million residents. It’s the smallest county in Pennsylvania landwise, but the most populous. Philadelphia county is coextensive with the city of Philadelphia. Key industries include information technology and services, along with finance. It is also a national hub for health education and research centers.

Public Information & Records

  • Ban the Box laws apply to public and private sector employers in the city of Philadelphia.

York County

York County is home to more than 450,000 residents and is located in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River Valley. The county seat is York.  It is known as the “Snack Food Capital of the World,” with several leading snack food companies in the county, including Snyder’s of Hanover and Martin’s Snacks. A major Harley Davidson plant is also located in York County.

Public Information & Records

  • Ban the Box laws apply to city employers in York and also encourages private businesses to follow suit by removing conviction inquiries from their job applications.

Get a Pennsylvania background check with Checkr

A trusted background check provider can help Pennsylvania employers save time and streamline their pre-employment background check process. When you partner with Checkr, you have access to many screening options to fit your needs with fast turnaround times and accurate reporting. Our modern platform is easy-to-use with built-in compliance tools and automated workflows to help enable compliance. Get started with a Pennsylvania background check with Checkr.

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The resources and information provided here are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult your own counsel for up-to-date legal advice and guidance related to your practices, needs, and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

As Compliance Manager, Danielle analyzes the ever-changing laws and regulations affecting background screening to ensure that Checkr and its customers stay compliant. She also writes content to educate employers about background checks, screening best practices, and fair hiring laws. 

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