Fair Chance Licensing for People with Records

We all have a stake in this work, and it’s time to act.

Two trends, decades in the making, are colliding.

The first trend, stemming from “tough on crime” policies and mass incarceration, is that more Americans have an arrest or conviction record than ever before.

The second trend is the dramatic expansion of occupational licensing, which requires people to obtain permission from a government agency—and, commonly, pass a background check—before they can work.

The result?

More than 70 million people with a record in the United States either face significant barriers when seeking a license to work, which is now required for one in four jobs, including many good-paying jobs that are in high demand in healthcare and other industries, or—even worse—they are automatically disqualified, sometimes for life.

NELP is committed to ensuring that all people who work or aspire to do so have the right to work, grow, and improve regardless of their background or circumstance.

Learn about how we are creating a more equitable workplace by advocating for fair chance licensing reform.

Fair Chance Licensing Campaign Resources

Barriers to Rapidly Growing Professions State Fact Sheets

These fact sheets discuss growing occupations in states where law requires a criminal background check, and offer recommendations for Fair Chance licensing reforms for each state.


Opening Pathways for People with Records to Join Licensed Professions 

This campaign toolkit is intended to provide lawmakers and advocates in states across the country with the resources necessary to set about the work of fair chance licensing reform. 


Unlicensed & Untapped: Removing Barriers to State Occupational Licenses for People with Records 

This comprehensive report examines and assigns a grade to the criminal record background check restrictions of each state’s occupational licensing and certification laws.  Learn more as well about NELP’s recommendations for policy solutions to create fairer state licensing laws. 

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State and Federal Campaign Highlights

Nationwide Trend to Reform Unfair Occupational Licensing Laws

This fact sheet summarizes 2019 legislative updates in occupational licensing. 

In 2019 alone, new fair chance licensing bills were signed into law in at least nine states: Arkansas, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah. To varying degrees, the laws eliminate automatic blanket bans against people with records, expand transparency, remove vague statutory language, and adopt fairer evaluation criteria.

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Removing Unfair Barriers to Work in Demand Industries

A Healthcare Employer Guide to Hiring People with Arrest and Conviction Records:  Seizing the Opportunity to Tap a Large, Diverse Workforce 

This guide takes healthcare employers through a step-by-step process to breakdown the myths and stereotypes about hiring people with records, and provides case studies of major healthcare employers, such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, that have found that employing people with records improves their bottom line and their connection to the community. 

A Healthy Balance:  Expanding Healthcare Job Opportunities for Californians with a Criminal Record While Ensuring Patient Safety and Security 

This report profiles the landscape of laws and policies in California that regulate employment of people with arrest and conviction records, while making the case for model policy reforms to help healthcare employers meet the growing demand for healthcare workers.  

A Scorecard on the Post-9/11 Port Worker Background Checks:  Model Worker Protections Provide a Lifeline for People of Color, While Major TSA Delays Leave Thousands Jobless During the Recession 

In response to the 9/11 attacks, a new federal law was enacted requiring roughly two million port workers to pass an FBI criminal background check to continue working on a port.  This report documents the favorable impact of the law’s worker protections, including a procedure to challenge inaccurate records and produce evidence of rehabilitation, which serve as a model for other federal and state laws to follow.  

Navigating Covered California Background Check Requirements: A Manual for Certified Enrollment Counsel Applicants (September 2013)

With the rollout of the ACA’s Covered California program, large numbers of “navigators” and other community workers were hired across the state to help enroll Californians in healthcare coverage. NELP and the Greenlining Institute drafted this manual to help applicants take maximum advantage of the model appeal and waiver procedures adopted by the California criminal background check regulations implementing the new program.

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