An appeals court has overturned Pennsylvania’s nearly 20-year policy of prohibiting those with certain criminal convictions from caring for the elderly or disabled.
The measure, which went into effect as part of the Older Adults Protective Services Act in 1997, was intended to safeguard the vulnerable.
But Janet Ginzberg of Community Legal Services, which helped bring the challenging suit, said it was overly broad.
“When this law was passed, people started coming into our office and they were suddenly barred from working in a profession that many of them had worked in for years — even decades,” she said.
The ban prevented workers from serving as health aides without considering the details of the offense, the time since their crime, or their efforts at rehabilitation. Employers were required to deny employment to applicants convicted of major felonies such as murder, but also less serious crimes, including petty theft.
One plaintiff in the lawsuit, Tyrone Peake, was 18 years old when he rode in a car that had been stolen, and was convicted of attempted theft. He has been law abiding in the 33 years since, and has trained to become an addiction-recovery specialist. Without any room for exemption, he argued, the lifetime prohibition was unreasonable.
A seven-judge panel in Harrisburg agreed the ban’s scope was too wide and violated workers’ constitutional rights, and overturned the policy.
Karen Kulp, president of Home Care Associates of Philadelphia, said she welcomes the change, although she would like to see clarification from the Legislature on how businesses should proceed.
The blanket ban removed as many as one in five of her candidates.
“There is a shortage of people who are willing to do the work,” said Kulp. “For folks who have paid their dues and had some work experience, we should be able to hire them. And I’d like to be able to hire them.”
The rule reversal, of course, doesn’t mean that employers have to hire applicants with criminal records.
“We’re still going to look for people who have integrity and are good caregivers and have a good work history,” said Kulp.
The commonwealth has 30 days to appeal the decision.