Hiring policies under review

UI isn't only employer looking at expanding use of background checks

CHAMPAIGN — What's on your record? More area employers want to know.

As the University of Illinois moves closer to implementing a new hiring policy that expands its use of criminal background checks, at least two others employers, including the city of Champaign and Parkland College, also are weighing that option.

The city of Champaign's current policy calls for criminal background checks to be conducted for new public safety employees in the police and fire departments, for department heads and people who work in certain areas, such as the legal department.

"It's a comprehensive list, but it does not involve all city employees," said Stacy Rachel, temporary administrative services supervisor in the city's human resources department. "The city is looking into evaluating its current policy: Do we want to expand the background check requirement to other positions?"

Meanwhile, city administrators also will review results from a pilot program launched several months ago. In addition to sending fingerprints of potential candidates to the Illinois State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation, the city also hired a third-party vendor to run background checks based on a candidate's name and other identifying information.

A decision has not been made yet on if and how the administrative policy governing background checks will change, according to Rachel.

Currently, the UI runs criminal background checks on potential hires who will work with children, are in "security sensitive" positions, handle money or work in a hospital. UI administrators plan to implement the new, more expansive policy in early 2015. It is still being developed.

UI officials said the university had been moving toward such as policy and that it was not prompted by debates about the school's employment of James Kilgore, the former Symbionese Liberation Army member who has worked as an academic hourly and taught on the campus in recent years.

Parkland College's policy is similar to the UI's current one. Background checks are conducted on those who will work with minors (such as in the child care center, as part of the College for Kids program or a youth sports program), as well as health professions employees (such as nursing instructors) and those in the public safety division.

Fifty-four background checks were conducted last year, and there have been 19 so far this year, according to Parkland human resources director Kathleen McAndrew. Those numbers could go up as school officials consider expanding the use of such checks in the future.

"That is something we will consider and probably will be discussing. We've been thinking about it internally, going back to the Jerry Sandusky case," McAndrew said.

Ever since the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal, in which former assistant football coach Sandusky was convicted of molesting young boys on campus over a 15-year period, colleges have been updating their hiring policies. In 2012, the UI created a new policy that requires all employees who have contact with minors to undergo background checks.

Currently, all applicants to Parkland are asked at the time of application if they have ever been convicted of a felony.

If they say yes, that does not automatically disqualify them from a job there. Hiring managers use it to "screen" employees as it relates to the position they're applying for, McAndrew said.

"Sometimes we'll contact the applicant if we need more information, and we'll consult with public safety and legal counsel," she said.

"Whether or not (a finding from a background check) precludes someone from employment depends on what the position is," said Deb Busey, county administrator for Champaign.

At the county government level, there are so many different categories of employees and different regulatory requirements based on position (such as nursing homes and sheriff's personnel), there is no general policy regarding background checks, she said.

Carle and fingerprinting

It's not uncommon for employers to go beyond the step of asking about criminal history on an employment application.

Kraft conducts pre-employment background checks on all new hires at locations across the country, according to spokeswoman Joyce Hodel. That includes a criminal check, education verification and previous work verification, she said.

At Carle, background checks are completed for all newly hired employees, spokesman Mark Schultz said. A "Background Verification Report" includes a search of court records; sex offender listings; a review of a "Healthcare Sanction Search," which digs up any history of misconduct related to the profession; and other databases.

"If the background check turns up something, Carle handles on a case by case basis," Schultz said.

Some, but not all potential employees of Carle, are fingerprinted. Fingerprinting is required, for example, for nonlicensed health care workers who provide direct care to patients in the hospital — phlebotomists and sleep lab technicians, among others.

The scope of criminal background checks conducted by schools follows rules outlined in state statutes.

Schools run background checks not only on employees but also employees of those with whom they contract, like food service companies. Area schools also in recent years have required background checks of their volunteers.

How Unit 4 does it

Schools run their background checks through the state police and FBI, plus several national databases, including the U.S. Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Registry and the Illinois State Police's Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registry. They also check for any abuse or neglect case history with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said Gayle Jeffries, assistant superintendent for human resources at Urbana Unit 116 schools.

Certain offenses automatically prevent you from working at a school, according to Ken Kleber, executive director of human resources at Unit 4, which runs more than 1,000 background checks a year.

"When in doubt, we research carefully. If it's an out-of-state offense, we'll call the circuit clerk there, request records, sometimes obtaining a court order to get the records," Kleber said.

"If some come back with one of the exclusionary offenses, then we will call an applicant or sometimes meet with them. There are other offenses where we have discretion to say yes or no," he said.

Districts have discretion in looking at misdemeanors. For example, if someone has a history of misdemeanor theft and applied for a job in which he or she will handle money, "we can say, it's not a good fit," Kleber said.

At the same time, if there was a misdemeanor event that happened early on in someone's life, hiring directors sometimes will look at that as "youthful indiscretion," Jeffries said.

Who makes the call? Human resources staff in consultation with attorneys, Kleber said.

Results from a background check are not necessarily used as an eliminating factor, the city of Champaign's Rachel said.

The information from a background check is reviewed and evaluated with regard to the relevance of a position's requirements, how long ago the incident occurred and whether the applicant admitted or falsified information about the incident in the employment application, she said.

"It becomes part of total picture, part of the total information we receive about a candidate," Rachel said.

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