Human Resources Policies

HR99 Background Check Process

Policy Status: 

Under Review

Policy Steward: 

Vice President for Human Resources


THIS VERSION Effective: July 28, 2020



This policy outlines a process for ensuring background checks are completed for any individuals, age 16 and over, (paid or unpaid) who are engaged by Penn State in any capacity. This includes, but is not limited to, employees; volunteers; adjunct faculty; consultants and contractors who conduct their work on Penn State premises, or who represent Penn State at non-Penn State locations; visiting scholars; graduate assistants; or other similar positions.

In addition, it requires individuals engaged by the University to self-disclose criminal arrests and/or convictions as outlined in the Penn State Arrest and Conviction Self-Disclosure Form within a 72-hour period of their occurrence.

Nothing herein is intended to contradict or lessen compliance with applicable federal and state laws or regulations.


Penn State strives to provide the safest possible environment for its students, faculty, staff and visitors; to preserve University resources; and to uphold the reputation and integrity of the University. This policy supports the University's efforts to minimize institutional risk, provide a safe environment, and assist hiring authorities in making sound hiring decisions.


This policy applies to individuals engaged by Penn State in any capacity including, but not limited to, the following positions:

  • Staff
  • Faculty (including Adjunct Faculty)
  • Post-Doctoral Scholars and Fellows
  • Technical Service Employees
  • Temporary employees not sponsored by a staffing agency (wage payroll)
  • Administrators and Academic Administrators
  • Executives
  • Volunteers (if working with minors or in sensitive/critical positions)
  • Graduate Assistants
  • Graduate and undergraduate student employees
  • Work study students
  • Interns (paid or unpaid)
  • Visiting Scholars, as defined by AC01 Visiting Scholars policy
  • Third-party contractors such as consultants and temporary staffing agency employees who conduct their work on Penn State premises or who represent Penn State at non-Penn State locations (such as training professionals)
  • Any individual not previously described who is paid directly by the University (unless specifically excluded from the policy); or who is working in a “sensitive/critical” position (defined below)


Background checks will not be required under the following circumstances unless the individual has direct contact with minors; or has otherwise been identified as covered under this policy due to the nature and or length of his/her assignment.

  • Individuals paid an "honorarium" as defined in Policy BS17 - Use and Procurement of External Consultants (e.g. speakers, presenters): a payment given to a professional person (non-employee) for services for which fees are not legally or traditionally required.
  • Individuals providing services requiring specialized skills (e.g., independent contractors) where payment, if any, is provided through a "Special Request for Check" and reported to the individual via Form 1099. Services provided must be very limited in scope, typically one-time events ranging from less than 1 day to a maximum of 7 days service annually. Prior to engaging an individual to provide services, the unit Human Resources Representative should be consulted. If it is unknown how long or how often the individual will be providing services, a background check should be required.
  • Individuals working for third-party contractors on construction sites that are considered to be vacant (either new construction or a project that is "fenced-in"). However, if the construction is in a partially closed building (e.g. one floor is vacant while other floors are still in use) or for other reasons is mixed in its accessibility, third-party compliance with background checks will be required.


Conviction: Being found guilty, entering a guilty plea or pleading no contest before a court, a district justice or magistrate resulting in a fine, sentence or probation. This definition does not include convictions for which the individual's record has been expunged.

Employee: Any person whose wages are paid directly by Penn State, whether full-or part-time and regardless of whether the position is benefits-eligible.

Penn State University: Any campus, unit, program, association or entity of Penn State with the exception of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center campus (including the College of Medicine), which will follow a separate policy that reflects the unique activities that occur on that campus.

Criminal Conviction

Being found guilty, entering a guilty plea or pleading no contest to a felony and/or misdemeanor. Convictions for which the individual's record has been expunged may not be considered.

Sensitive/Critical Positions:

  • Master key access to all, or the majority of all, offices/facilities within buildings (including residences or other on-site or off-site facilities)
  • Direct responsibility for the care, safety and security of people, or the safety and security of personal and University property (includes those working with minors, child care workers, physicians, residence hall supervisors, coaches, transit drivers, those driving University vehicles, etc.)
  • Direct responsibility for the care, safety and security of animals
  • Direct responsibility for providing legal counsel to the University and/or outside parties
  • Direct access to or responsibility for cash, cash equivalents, checks, credit card account information, or University property disbursements or receipts
  • Extensive authority for committing the financial resources of the University
  • Direct access to or responsibility for controlled substances or hazardous materials
  • Direct access to or responsibility for protected, personal or other sensitive data (includes auditors, information systems personnel, human resources and payroll staff, registrars, etc.)
  • Administrator, Academic Administrator and Executive positions, if background check is not completed by executive search firm or other similar agency
  • Other positions as defined by units that have a job-related need for additional background checks

Sensitive Facilities/Programs: University facilities/programs that require special clearance or background checks for access or that permit unsupervised access to records that are confidential or otherwise have special protections under State or Federal law, e.g. export controls.


Engagement with the University is contingent upon the results of a background check. A standard background check must be completed prior to the first day of work/engagement with the University. Any exceptions must be approved by the Office of Human Resources, Talent Acquisition Division.

Standard Background Check

A standard background check will include a social security number verification; a misdemeanor and felony criminal history check; and National Sex and Violent Offender Registry check.

Candidates will be informed that the offer is contingent upon a satisfactory background check. The candidate will be required to complete self-disclosure and consent forms authorizing Penn State to complete a standard background check.

Additional background checks may be required for specific positions based on job-related need, including the following:

  • Education Verification: Required for academic positions upon initial hire or for updated credentials with the exception of emeritus academic positions; optional for other positions
  • Motor Vehicle Record: Required for positions where it can be anticipated that an individual will be regularly required to drive a vehicle on University business, whether University-owned or other vehicle; or where an individual may be asked to transport minors. Motor vehicle checks will be updated every three years for positions, as relevant, and it is the department's and supervisor's responsibility to initiate the process
  • Credit History Check: Conducted only for sensitive/critical positions with extensive authority to commit financial resources of the University or with extensive fiduciary responsibility for financial resources of the University including but not limited to Administrator, Academic Administrator, and Executive positions; or as required by law
  • Employment Verifications
  • License Verification: Confirmation that the selected candidate or employee possesses all technical/professional licenses listed on the application, resume or cover letter, or otherwise cited by the candidate or employee, including verification of the disposition of such licenses
  • State or federal law or regulations, professional associations, licensing entities or contracting partners may impose background screening check requirements upon certain individuals. In these cases, the affected individual and department should coordinate the need for such a check with the Office of Human Resources, Talent Acquisition Division
  • Other verifications, as needed, based on job requirements

Publicly Available Clearances

Individuals engaged with the University that have direct contact with minors or direct volunteer contact with minors as defined in Policy AD39 are required to obtain the publicly available clearances in lieu of a standard background check. Current employees, unpaid individuals, and third-party employees may also obtain publicly available clearances in lieu of a standard background check. Publicly available clearances include the following:

  • Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Background Check
  • Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance
  • Federal (FBI) Fingerprint Background Check

Instructions for completion of the publicly available clearances may be found in the Penn State Information for Completing PA Publicly Available Background Checks.

Review of Background Checks

Background checks will be used solely to evaluate candidates' eligibility to be engaged in any work capacity by the University, and will not be used to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religious creed, gender, disability or handicap, age, genetic information, veteran's status, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Candidates for employment who fail to participate fully or who provide inaccurate information in a background check will be eliminated from consideration for the position. Candidates may decline to authorize a background check; in such cases, no background check will be performed, but the candidate will not be considered further.

The existence of a criminal conviction will not result in automatic disqualification but will be considered by the university to the extent it relates to the applicant’s suitability for employment in the position for which the applicant has applied, and may be considered based on the following factors:

  • Nature and gravity of the offense(s),
  • Time since conviction, completion of sentence or any other remediation,
  • Degree of relevance to the position for which the candidate is being considered/employee is performing; and
  • Discrepancies between the background check and what the candidate/employee self-reported.

The background screening check of a candidate who also is a current employee, may impact the current employee's employment, particularly absent full self-disclosure.

Upon request, the University will provide candidates, employees and volunteers with a copy of their background investigation reports not already in their possession, regardless of outcome and without charge.

In cases for which information revealed in a background check will result in an adverse employment decision, the University will provide the candidate with all required notifications pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act and/or other applicable law(s).

Grounds for Denying Employment, Volunteerism or Engagement with the University that Involves Direct Contact with Minors

As provided by the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law (23 Pa.C.S. §§6301, et seq.), knowledge of the following information about an individual will result in denial of employment, volunteer position or other engagement with the University:

  1. Convicted of one of the following offenses listed under Title 18 (relating to crimes and offenses); or an equivalent crime under Federal law or the law of another state:

    Chapter 25 (relating to criminal homicide).

    Section 2702 (relating to aggravated assault).

    Section 2709.1 (relating to stalking).

    Section 2901 (relating to kidnapping).

    Section 2902 (relating to unlawful restraint).

    Section 3121 (relating to rape).

    Section 3122.1 (relating to statutory sexual assault).

    Section 3123 (relating to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse).

    Section 3124.1 (relating to sexual assault).

    Section 3125 (relating to aggravated indecent assault).

    Section 3126 (relating to indecent assault).

    Section 3127 (relating to indecent exposure).

    Section 4302 (relating to incest).

    Section 4303 (relating to concealing death of child).

    Section 4304 (relating to endangering welfare of children).

    Section 4305 (relating to dealing in infant children).

    A felony offense under section 5902(b) (relating to prostitution and related offenses).

    Section 5903(c) or (d) (relating to obscene and other sexual materials and performances).

    Section 6301 (relating to corruption of minors).

    Section 6312 (relating to sexual abuse of children).

    The attempt, solicitation or conspiracy to commit any of the offenses set forth in this paragraph.
  2. Named as a perpetrator of a founded report in the statewide protective services database within the preceding 5-year period.
  3. Convicted of a felony offense under the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L.233, No.64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, committed within the five-year period immediately preceding verification.

If information is discovered or revealed that would result in denial of employment, volunteerism or engagement based on the above standards:

  1.  The applicant will be removed from consideration for employment, volunteerism, or engagement; or
  2. The employee will be subject to administrative actions up to and including removal from employment.

Felony and misdemeanor convictions beyond those noted above will not result in automatic disqualification but will be considered by the University based on the factors described above.

Breaks in Service

For employees, a break in service of less than five (5) years does not require a new background check, unless the individual returns to an assignment requiring a check(s) which was not previously performed, or for which publicly available clearances are no longer valid.

Individuals with a break in service of six (6) months or longer are required to complete a Penn State Arrest and Conviction Self-Disclosure Form before returning to work. Individuals with a break in services of six months or less, including sabbatical leave, maternity leave, or other types of approved leaves of six months or less, are reminded that this self-disclosure requirement is still in force.

Third-Party Contractors

Third-party contractors include consultants, temporary staffing agency employees, and other third-party vendors working for or engaged by the University who conduct their work on Penn State premises or who represent Penn State at non-Penn State locations. Depending upon the responsibilities of the position, the individual must either:

  1. Be covered by a signed contractor's/vendor's agreement that confirms its employees have had background checks that meet or exceed the University's standards for the type of work being performed.
  2. Be sponsored by the engaging unit to have a background check(s) completed by the University based on the job requirements of the position. The background check must be satisfactorily completed prior to beginning work.
  3. Obtain publicly available clearances as outlined in the definitions above prior to beginning work. Third-party employees with direct contact with minors must obtain the publicly available clearances.

Visiting Scholars

Though not employees of the University, Visiting Scholars (as defined by AC01 Visiting Scholars) whose approved visit to the University will be 14 consecutive days or more are required to undergo a background check as outlined by this policy and in accordance with AC01, which requires the background check to be completed prior to granting such Visiting Scholars access to University facilities.

Please follow the process for requesting Visiting Scholar approval and obtaining appropriate background check detailed in AC01.

Unpaid Individuals

This includes interns, volunteers, or other individuals providing services to and/or engaged by the University. While these positions receive no compensation and the individuals are not considered employees of the University, they are required to complete the appropriate background check process based on the responsibilities of their position.  The unit must complete the “Request Background Check for Unpaid Individuals” form available on the WorkLion Portal.

Executives, Administrators, and Academic Administrators

Executives, Administrators, and Academic Administrators hired through an executive staffing agency or similar staffing company must complete either a Penn State background check consistent with position requirements or have confirmation of a background check of the required criteria having been completed by the staffing agency.


Penn State retains the right to conduct relevant background checks of current employees when it has reasonable grounds to do so, e.g., no prior check was performed, a workplace incident has occurred, upon self-disclosure of criminal activity or upon the University being informed of such activity, update of information due to designation as sensitive/critical position, or upon a change of assignment.


Individuals currently employed or engaged by the University (whether paid or unpaid) are required to notify the appropriate Human Resources representative of certain arrests (charged with a misdemeanor or felony) or convictions within 72 hours of occurrence by using the Penn State Arrest and Conviction Self-Disclosure Form. The arrests and convictions that must be reported are listed on the self-disclosure form.

Failure to report any arrest or conviction may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. Employees of consulting companies and/or contractors are expected to inform their employers, who will review the situation with the Office of Human Resources, Talent Acquisition Division.

Information will be used only if job related and will not necessarily affect employment. The Office of Human Resources will notify the employee's department of an arrest or conviction only if it is determined that the arrest and/or conviction is pertinent to the employee's ability to carry out the duties or functions of his or her position. Depending on the facts and the employee's involvement in the events leading to arrest and/or conviction, arrests and convictions reported to the employee’s department may subject the employee to discipline, up to and including termination.


Records gathered as a result of a background screening check will be maintained as confidential records by the University, and will be maintained in accordance with the Penn State records retention schedule.


Summary of rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act:

Penn State Arrest and Conviction self-disclosure form

Penn State Information for Completing PA Publicly Available Background Checks


Other Policies in this Manual should also be referenced, especially the following:

AC01 - Visiting Scholars

AD29 - Statement on Intolerance

AD33 - A Drug-Free Workplace

AD39 - Minors involved in University-sponsored Programs or Programs held at the University and/or Housed in University Facilities

AD41 - Sexual Harassment

AD42 - Statement on Nondiscrimination

AD72- Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

BS17- Use and Procurement of External Consultants

BS20 - University Vehicle Operations or Use

HR11 - Affirmative Action in Employment at The Pennsylvania State University

Date Approved: 

July 28, 2020

Date Published: 

July 28, 2020

Effective Date: 

July 28, 2020