Penn State Introduces New Background Check for Final Job Approval

UNIVERSITY PARK – A new Penn State policy, effective July 5, 2012, requires final job candidates and third-party employees who are offered employment on or after the policy effective date to undergo a criminal background check before approval of their work at the University.

Three of the University’s prior policies (HR69, HR95 and HR96) have been combined into the new HR99 policy, “Background Check Process,” incorporating a more comprehensive procedure that also ensures compliance with recently issued U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines on background checks.

“To provide the safest possible environment for our students, faculty, staff and visitors it is imperative that Penn State implements consistent and thorough background check procedures,” said Susan Basso, associate vice president for Human Resources. “This policy will help the University make sound hiring decisions and also will help minimize risk for the University.”

The new policy establishes a clear process to ensure that a candidate’s criminal history and any potential child abuse records are reviewed. Background checks will be used solely to evaluate candidates’ eligibility to be engaged in any work capacity by the University. In addition, current employees who are considered to be in “sensitive/critical” positions, as defined in the policy, must complete background checks if they have not already been completed. Positions with responsibility for protected, personal or other sensitive data (auditors; registrars; IT, HR, and payroll staffs); positions with master key access to all offices/facilities within buildings; and positions with responsibility for controlled substances or hazardous materials are among those considered to be sensitive/critical.

The policy also requires all individuals, including current employees, to self-disclose criminal arrests and/or convictions that are outlined in the self-disclosure form within a 72-hour period of their occurrence. Candidates who fail to participate fully or who provide inaccurate information will be eliminated from consideration for employment. Employees who fail to notify their Human Resources representative of an arrest or conviction for one of the offenses outlined in the self-disclosure form in a timely manner may incur disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Previously, human resources policies HR95 and HR96 covered reference and background checks for academic appointments and “other-than-academic appointments,” respectively. The updated policy will cover academic and nonacademic positions, unpaid positions and third-party employees working on Penn State’s behalf. Additionally, the new policy confirms the University’s responsibilities under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that were previously included in HR69.

In addition to the standard background check process, which includes a criminal history check and child abuse record check, additional verifications may be conducted based on the responsibilities of the job. Some of the additional checks include motor vehicle records, educational and licensure credentials, as well as employment history.

Motor vehicle record checks will be verified for individuals whose responsibilities include driving a University-owned vehicle, or those who may be asked to transport minors. These records will be re-verified every three years, initiated by a department supervisor. Those employees must notify Human Resources of any arrests or convictions for driving while under the influence or the loss of the individual’s driver’s license due to traffic violations or other similar charges/convictions. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Additionally, credit history checks will be implemented, consistent with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), for those individuals who are in sensitive/critical positions with extensive authority to commit the financial resources of the University or who have extensive cash-handling responsibilities.

The existence of a criminal conviction will not automatically disqualify an individual from employment or employment consideration. The University will consider the nature and seriousness of the offense, the nature of the position, the length of time since the conviction and any discrepancies from what was self-reported by the individual. When a finding adversely impacts employment eligibility, the candidate will be notified and provided with the opportunity to provide additional information in accordance with FCRA. Should the issue not be satisfactorily resolved, an offer of employment may be withdrawn after Human Resources consults with senior leadership on the matter.

If a position requires a background check beyond the standard background check due to the responsibilities of the position (such as driving a University vehicle), or a current employee will be required to have a background check if one is not currently on record (such as working with minors), the job posting will include language to reflect that qualification. Similarly, all offer letters to final candidates will indicate that the position is contingent upon a successful background check.

Employees with a break in service of six months or less do not require a new background check upon their return to work unless the individual returns to an assignment requiring a background check(s) that was not previously performed. Approved employee leaves such as sabbatical leaves, maternity leaves or other types of approved leaves of six months or longer will require the employee to complete a self-disclosure form before returning to work. Other breaks in service for employees of greater than six months will require a background check to be completed.

Unpaid individuals and third-party employees — such as interns, adjunct faculty, consultants, temporary employees and contractors — must also complete background checks. These individuals will typically either have background checks through their own employer, e.g. a temporary employment agency, or will initiate their own background checks via three publicly available websites: PA criminal background, Department of Public Welfare child abuse check, and FBI criminal history. Background checks will need to be dated within two years prior to the date of hire and/or engagement for services. Should a unit agree to fund the background check, the individual will use the regular Penn State background check process by contacting the appropriate Human Resources representative.

The University retains the right to conduct relevant background checks of current employees when it has reasonable grounds to do so, particularly if a prior check was not conducted, if a workplace incident or personal criminal activity occurs, or if the responsibilities of a current or new position require a background check.

Background check records are part of an employee’s personnel file, but to maintain confidentiality, will be kept separate from the employee’s general personnel file.

“The updated background check policy reflects best practice and is part of a comprehensive program of due diligence and proactive safety measures, ” said Basso. “By consistent implementation of the policy, we’ll ensure a safer environment for all of Penn State’s employees, students and visitors. ”

The full policy is available at

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2 thoughts on “Penn State Introduces New Background Check for Final Job Approval

  1. Sojourner of Truth

    Less than 5% of those who commit a sexually-related criminal offense or who embezzle money from their employers have a prior criminal record. If a hospital ran a cancer screening test that missed 95% of all cancers, it would be sued for malpractice, but businesses keep buying and relying upon criminal history background checks that fail to predict over 95% of criminal activity in these two major categories alone.

    Statistics show that within 3 years of release from incarceration, there is no predictive value in a criminal background report, even for convicted sex offenders. The probabilities of an ex-offender committing a crime are the same as a non-offender at that point. Criminal background check histories are based upon junk science and utterly worthless as a predictor of future conduct, especially when it comes to stale conviction data.

    Employers and landlords should just as well consult an astrologer or a palm reader to decide who to hire or who to rent to. It’s all the same pseudoscience, like alchemy, handwriting analysis and lie detectors. Phrenologists long ago believed that their “scientific” reading of bumps on the head revealed moral and intellectual qualities, including a person’s likelihood of committing criminal acts. These are the great-grandfathers of the criminal history background check industry where moral panic trumps scientific reasoning.

    While there are a plethora of reports and studies proving the inherent unreliability of criminal history background checks, proponents of these reports cannot point to a single scientific study showing that they are valid, or even partially valid, predictors of future conduct. Like snake oil hawkers of old, the vendors of these reports tout their benefits but remain silent about any scientific support for their claims.

    Numerous studies have also shown that criminal history background reports are riddled with errors, inaccuracies, and mismatches, and, even if accurate information is presented, most potential employers and landlords do not know how to interpret the information. The distinctions between an arrest and a conviction, between a misdemeanor and a felony, are completely lost on most readers. If the report does not come back “clean,” the person is not hired. Period.

    So if a criminal charge for playing dominos on Sunday (a crime in Alabama) or using an elephant to plow a cotton field (a crime in North Carolina) shows up, all the potential employer sees is a “ding” and the job application gets tossed into the trash can and the rental application gets shredded.

    Employers and landlords waste a lot of time, energy and money running criminal background checks, and thereby keep highly-qualified people and a disproportionate number of minority applicants out of the labor force and out of affordable housing, but they live in a fool’s paradise if they think they are somehow protecting their business and customers from criminal conduct. Installing closed-circuit cameras over the cash register and in the parking lot would be a better use of their money.

    Criminal background checks are a billion dollar a year rip-off by unscrupulous information brokers in a minimally regulated industry. Anyone that relies upon them is just another victim of a scam operated by companies with little or no accountability and which base their business models on a pervasive witch-hunt mentality in our society.

    Surrendering to moral panic is not the way to make informed decisions in the United States, the “land of the free,” the “land of equal opportunity,” and the home of “justice for all.” Today’s outsized reliance on fallacious criminal history background reports renders these expressions of national identity meaningless in modern American culture.

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