Allegheny County will stop asking about employees’ criminal history, Fitzgerald says |

Allegheny County will stop asking about employees’ criminal history, Fitzgerald says

Aaron Aupperlee

Felons won’t have to disclose their criminal history when applying for some Allegheny County jobs in 2015, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Monday.

The county will nix a question on its employment application asking about felony and serious misdemeanor convictions, starting Jan. 1.

“What this says is for someone that is trying to turn their life around, someone who has paid their debt to society, they know that they can come to the county and apply for a job,” Fitzgerald said.

Pittsburgh banned similar questions in 2012. City Councilman Ricky Burgess led the city’s effort and commended Fitzgerald on the county’s ban.

Burgess did not know how many people may have benefited from the city’s ban but said people who previously could not apply and did so after the ban was lifted “felt empowered” by the opportunity.

“They are free to fully participate in (the) employment process,” Burgess said. “We need to realize that because someone makes a mistake at some point in their life, it should not be a life sentence.”

The city’s Department of Personnel did not return calls for comment.

Philadelphia enacted a ban in 2011. Thirteen states ban the questions. In some states, such as Minnesota, the ban applies to private companies.

Fitzgerald said he hoped the county’s ban sparks discussion among private companies, but he does not intend to mandate that businesses strike the question.

The National Federation of Independent Business opposes so-called “Ban the Box” initiatives nationwide because of the burden it places on small businesses, said Suzanne Collins, communications director for Pennsylvania. Small businesses rely on weeding out felons to shorten the hiring process and protect companies from discrimination or liability lawsuits.

Collins said those concerns likely are no different than those held by taxpayers worried about the exposure to costly litigation.

State and federal laws still will require the county to ask about convictions if someone applies for a job at the county jail, Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, police department, Department of Emergency Services, Kane Regional Centers and Department of Human Services, Fitzgerald said.

For positions in other departments, the county will note whether a criminal history or background check will be required. Human Resources will conduct a background check when a candidate accepts a conditional offer of employment.

Jim Craft, a professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, said such provisions ensure that the county focuses on information relevant to the open position.

The county employs more than 7,000 people. It has 56 open positions, about half of which are in the restricted departments.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or [email protected].

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