UI's expanded background-check program nets fewer job withdrawals

UI's expanded background-check program nets fewer job withdrawals

URBANA — Background checks prompted the University of Illinois to withdraw 25 job offers across its three campuses in 2018, just 0.2 percent of more than 13,000 checks conducted and 10 fewer than the previous year.

Two involved faculty applicants and two were for academic professional jobs, all at the UI Chicago campus or UI hospital. The rest involved civil service positions or other jobs, according to the UI.

Results from the third year of the UI's expanded background-checks policy were shared with trustees last week.

The UI has conducted background checks for years for sensitive positions where employees handle money, work at a hospital or deal with young children.

The expanded policy approved by the board in 2015 — after strong opposition from faculty, who feared it would be discriminatory — covered all new employees for the first time.

The background checks are done only after a job offer has been made and accepted, not for every applicant.

The university conducted 13,066 background checks from Nov. 1, 2017, through Oct. 31, 2018, the third full year of the program. That's up from 11,676 the previous year.

The UI system had 5,607 vacancies in that time, the majority (3,217) of them civil service job postings. Background checks are also conducted on current employees who are promoted to sensitive positions and volunteers who work in summer campus with children, said Jami Painter, associate vice president and chief human resources officer for the UI system.

The UI hires an outside firm for the checks, HireRight, which acquired the original vendor, General Information Services.

If the check turns up something in an applicant's history, it doesn't mean that person is automatically rejected, Painter said.

HireRight checks the National Sex Offender Registry and state and national criminal databases. It only searches for convictions, not arrests, and if something turns up, a review panel at the university decides whether it's relevant to the particular job — a DUI conviction for someone who drives a car, for instance.

The applicant is given 10 days to provide additional information to the university before a final decision is made. The university also considers the nature of the offense, how long ago it was, and any rehabilitation efforts and employment history since the conviction.

Of the 25 people turned down because of past criminal activity, seven had applied for jobs at the Urbana campus, 16 were at the UI Chicago and two were at the UI Hospital in Chicago.

The background checks cost $470,826, up from $392,037 last year and the most expensive tab since the policy was enacted. The total cost at Urbana was $173,468.

The average cost was $35 in Chicago, $37 in Urbana and $56 in Springfield. Costs vary depending on where applicants are recruited from, as states charge different prices for background checks, Painter said.

One concern in 2015 was that the additional background checks might slow down the hiring process, but Painter said that hasn't happened. The average turnaround time for a check rose slightly in 2018 but was still 2.8 days in Urbana and Chicago and 4.6 days in Springfield. It varies depending on an applicant's history, she said, and the federal government shutdown this winter caused some short delays.

Critics had also worried that the new policy would deter people from applying to the UI. The number of applicants dipped slightly the first year background checks were in use, from 83,426 in 2015 to 81,751 in 2016. But they've rebounded since, to 101,578 in 2018.

"That has not been a deterrent for individuals to apply," Painter said.

"It also has not prevented our qualified candidates from getting hired," she said, noting the small number of offers rescinded. And the policy mitigates the UI's risk by identifying those whose backgrounds don't fit the position, she said.

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