New PA Law Removes Barriers to Employment for People with Criminal Convictions

If you have a criminal record, Pennsylvania is giving you a new opportunity for meaningful work and a better life.

On July 1, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 637 into law, removing barriers that prevented skilled workers with criminal records from attaining professional licenses. The new law requires the Department of State’s 29 boards and commissions, which regulate 255 types of licenses, to stop denying applications solely on criminal history unless the applicant’s criminal history is directly related to the occupation in which he/she is seeking licensure. The boards must also individually consider applications based on the offense, the amount of time since the conviction, and the applicant’s personal progress and training, among other factors, before withholding licensure.

A task force report released in 2018 found that about one in five Pennsylvania workers are professionally licensed, which translates to more than one million professional licenses. Nurses and dieticians-nutritionists make up the largest segment, with more than 312,000 licensures. Also popular are cosmetology, with more than 128,000 licensures; real estate, with close to 66,000 licensures; and engineers, land surveyors and geologists, with more than 53,000 licensures. The smallest segment is 42 maritime pilots who are licensed by the Navigation Commission for the Delaware River and its Navigable Tributaries.

Other measures provided by the new law that will help individuals with criminal convictions get their lives back on track include:

  • Boards must also create a public list of criminal offenses that may prevent licensure.
  • Individuals can get a preliminary decision if their conviction is likely to disqualify them from licensure so they do not waste time and money on training.
  • Temporary licenses are created in barbering and cosmetology for re-entrants trained in a correctional facility who otherwise would be denied a license because of their criminal record.

Note, however, that boards cannot issue a license to someone convicted of a sexual offense to practice as a healthcare practitioner. The Department of State and the licensing boards will develop a guide to help people with criminal convictions apply for a license.

Criminal Justice Reforms

The new law is one of several criminal justice reforms by the Wolf administration that will help Pennsylvanians overcome their criminal convictions. It comes one day after the second anniversary of Wolf’s signing of the Clean Slate law, which allows individuals to petition the courts for their records to be sealed if a person has been free from conviction for 10 years for an offense that resulted in a year or more in prison and has paid all court-ordered financial debts. Clean Slate also provides for automatic sealing of arrest records after charges are dropped and of some minor conviction records after 10 years.

One year after the Clean Slate law took effect in June 2019, nearly 35 million low-level criminal records were removed from public view. The administration touted Clean Slate as a means to help people access employment, housing, and education.

In 2017, the Wolf administration initiated “ban the box” to remove questions about criminal history from state employment applications. The goal was to allow applicants with criminal records to be judged on their skills and qualifications and not solely on their criminal history, while preserving the appropriate evaluation during the hiring process.


To all who are working hard to turn their lives around after a criminal conviction, we wish you all the best as you pursue the rewarding careers that come with earning a professional license. We urge everyone who has made a mistake in the past to take advantage of all available options that will help ensure a bright future.