Frequently asked questions about new compliance requirements

The University will be implementing a phased approach to background checks, and unit HR representatives will be reaching out to applicable individuals based upon that schedule. To learn more about the compliance regulations and initiatives, read the frequently asked questions below.

Overview

Fingerprinting

Volunteers

Penn State students

Schools

Administrative

Youth Programs

 


Overview

Why are rules changing regarding background checks for those who work with minors?

At the end of October 2014, then Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed House Bill 435 into law, which is now known as Act 153. The new law requires certain individuals who work or volunteer with children to obtain specific clearances, including school employees. (Penn State, along with other institutions of higher education, is now considered to be a “school.”) Direct contact is defined as the care, supervision, guidance, or control of children or routine interaction with children. 

Read more about background checks here: http://news.psu.edu/story/338709/2014/12/16/new-law-ushers-expanded-back...

I work at a university. Am I really a school employee? I thought that school employees worked in K-12 or child care settings.

The Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law has been amended and, as of Dec. 31, 2014, the definition of school includes institutions of higher education, such as private colleges and universities, state-owned universities and state-related universities. 

What clearances will be required?

The clearances required include the following:

  • Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Background Check (SP4-164), and
  • Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance Form (CY-113) and
  • Federal (FBI) Fingerprint Background Check (Criminal History Report).

Pennsylvania Child Protective Services law also refers to these clearances as “certification.” For information on who will be required to obtain clearances, go to: http://news.psu.edu/story/349544/2015/03/23/university-announces-phased-...

Who will pay for these clearances?

For employees, the cost of the clearances will be covered by the University. For volunteers, each program or unit will decide whether individuals will be reimbursed in full, partially or not at all for the cost of the clearances. Further information regarding payment options will be forthcoming.


How do I know if I should obtain these three clearances? 

If you are in a position where you are responsible for the welfare of a child or have direct contact with children in youth programs or services (e.g., someone who was/is defined as an Authorized Adult) you should immediately begin the process of obtaining these clearances. For all other employees, unit HR representatives will communicate if and when clearances are necessary.

How do I obtain these clearances? 

Complete instructions for obtaining clearances can be found here: http://www.universityethics.psu.edu/UniversityEthics/background-checks.cfm

In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has complete instructions that can be accessed online. 

How long are clearances valid?

Employees and volunteers having contact with children are required to obtain the clearances every three years. Employees who have current clearances will be required to obtain new clearances within three years of the date of their most recent clearances, or, if current clearances are older than three years, by Dec. 31, 2015.

Note that Penn State policy requires those persons with out-of-date clearances who work with youth to begin the clearance process immediately. For more information, go to: http://www.universityethics.psu.edu/UniversityEthics/background-checks.cfm

Can clearances be transferred from one organization to another?

Any person who has obtained clearances may transfer or provide services to another subsidiary or branch established and supervised by the same organization, or serve in a volunteer capacity for any program, service or activity, during the length of time the person's clearances are current. However, if a person begins employment with a new agency, institution, organization or other entity that is responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children, he or she will be required to obtain new clearances. For example, if a Penn State employee who works in one department transfers to another department, he or she would not need to obtain new clearances. However, as the law currently reads, if a teacher from a local high school comes to work at a camp at Penn State in the summer, he or she would need to obtain a new clearance, as it would be considered working for a new agency.  

What if I already have the three publicly available clearances?

A Penn State employee with a current certification issued for the purposes of Penn State employment prior to Dec. 31, 2014, will be required to obtain new certifications within three years from the date of their most recent certification, or, if the current certification is older than three years, by Dec. 31, 2015. If an employee is working in a youth program and has clearances older than three years, he or she should move forward with obtaining these clearances immediately. 

As a current Penn State employee, what if I have never applied for the three publicly available clearances in the past?

If your position requires direct contact with children, you should immediately begin the process of obtaining these clearances. For all other employees, unit HR representatives will communicate if and when clearances are necessary.

The Pennsylvania Child Abuse clearance process is now online and refers to Agency Enrollment? Is there a Penn State account?

At this time, this portal is to be used for individual submission. Units submitting clearances in bulk should use the paper submission process until further notice. 

Fingerprinting

I understand that fingerprinting for the FBI clearance is available through University Police at University Park, but will Penn State be purchasing fingerprinting equipment for Commonwealth Campus locations?

No. In Pennsylvania, the contract for the fingerprinting process is exclusively managed by Cogent. There are a number of established fingerprint service sites across the state, including the University Police site at University Park. Fingerprint sites hours of operations and procedures may differ from site to site. Please review the 3M Cogent website (https://www.pa.cogentid.com/index.htm) for locations and up to date information. Penn State employees and volunteers who have direct contact with children as part of their work should choose the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare icon, or visit this direct link: https://www.pa.cogentid.com/index_dpwNew.htm

There are several options on the Cogent Fingerprint website. Which icon should I choose?

Penn State employees and volunteers who have direct contact with children should choose the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare icon, or visit this direct link: https://www.pa.cogentid.com/index_dpwNew.htm

What if a person accidentally applies for the Department of Education fingerprint?

Penn State can accept the fingerprint results from the Department of Education as long as the results show no record. If an employee submits a clearance that contains an indication of a record in the results, the Department of Human Services will need to be contacted to interpret the results prior to an employment decision being made. If this situation occurs, please contact your HR representative or the Office of Ethics and Compliance, youth programs specialist.

 

Volunteers

Are there different requirements for volunteers? 

The new law also requires adults to obtain the three publicly available clearances if they are applying for unpaid positions as volunteers responsible for the welfare of a child or having contact with children. There is one exception for volunteers: if a volunteer is applying for an unpaid position; if the prospective volunteer has been a resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the entirety of the previous 10-year period; and if the volunteer swears or affirms in writing that he or she is not disqualified from service or has not been convicted of specific crimes, that volunteer does not need to obtain the FBI Fingerprint Background Check. He or she will still need to obtain the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Background Check and the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance. 


What about those who are volunteering in Pennsylvania but are from out-of-state?

Persons responsible for the selection of volunteers may allow an individual to serve on a provisional basis for 30 days if the volunteer is in compliance with the clearance standards under the law of the jurisdiction where he/she resides.

What about individuals who are volunteering in other states as part of a Penn State program?

If these volunteers are interacting with minors, they must be in compliance with the clearance standards under the law of the jurisdiction where the volunteer resides.

What if my clearances are not returned before I am asked to start volunteering?

Volunteers must have clearances before beginning service. The only exception is for volunteers who are from out of state. Organizations may allow a volunteer to serve on a provisional basis for 30 days if the volunteer is in compliance with the clearance standards under the law of the state where the volunteer resides. The volunteer must swear or affirm in writing that he/she is not disqualified from service and has not been convicted of specific crimes.

Penn State students

Are Penn State students required to obtain clearances?

Individuals 16* years of age or older applying for paid positions that have direct contact with children are required to obtain clearances. If the position is a non-paid volunteer position, the age for obtaining clearances is 18.

*The law requires individuals 14 years of age having direct contact with children to obtain clearances. However, Penn State policy does not allow the hiring of individuals under the age of 16.

Schools

What if my work on behalf of Penn State takes me into K-12 schools, but I am not in a position of supervising children? 

Penn State is requiring people in all positions involved in recruiting to get the checks, and the new law requires all school employees who have direct contact with children (the care, supervision, guidance or control of children, or routine interaction with children) to obtain clearances. Employees and their units should check with any K-12 schools they visit to find out if there are any additional requirements.

Are employees who supervise the pre-student and student teachers by doing in-class observations covered by these requirements?

Yes, given that these individuals are Penn State employees who have direct contact with children, the background check requirements will apply.

 

Administrative

Who is responsible for tracking clearances? 

Each administrative human resources unit is required to maintain copies of the required information.

Who is responsible for determining if someone cannot work or volunteer based on criminal convictions on their background check?

Background checks that have any negative or questionable results must be reviewed and approved by the Office of Human Resources Recruitment and Compensation Division prior to the individual being hired and/or working with minors.

Will Penn State policies AD39 and HR99 be revised to reflect the new law?

Yes, both policies will be revised to reflect the new requirements.

Will there be a formal letter letting the employee know of requirements upon hire?

Offer letters will be adjusted to provide instructions for completion of background checks.

Given the new laws, will Penn State employees who work with children continue to have the background check Penn State had been obtaining through First Advantage?

Only wage payroll employees not working with children will continue with the current background check process through First Advantage. Those persons with direct contact with children will need the three publicly available clearances at time of hire with renewal every 36 months thereafter.

What if my clearances are not returned before I am to begin work?    

The new law allows for provisional hiring of employees for a limited period in instances when clearances are not returned in a timely manner. An organization may employ applicants on a provisional basis for a single period not to exceed 90 days if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The applicant has applied for and provides a copy of the appropriate request forms to the employer;
  • The employer has no knowledge of information pertaining to the applicant that would disqualify him or her from employment;
  • The applicant swears or affirms in writing that the volunteer is not disqualified from service or has not been convicted of specific crimes.

In addition, the applicant is not permitted to work alone with children and must be in the immediate vicinity of a permanent employee. If information obtained in the clearances reveals that the applicant is disqualified, the applicant shall be immediately dismissed by the employer.

Provisional hiring is not recommended and is only appropriate in emergency situations, when not hiring a person provisionally would create a situation where appropriate staff-to-child ratios are not met and would result in inadequate supervision for children in the program. In situations where provisional hiring is approved as an exception by the Office of Human Resources Recruitment and Compensation Division (in coordination with the Office of Ethics and Compliance, as appropriate), all guidelines outlined in the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law must be met. Program directors will be responsible for tracking the return of and ensuring copies of the final clearances have been obtained by the University in the time period that is required by law.

Youth Programs

Am I required to obtain the required clearances if I am working / volunteering as part of an off-campus Penn State program that involves direct contact with children?

Yes, all applicable Penn State policies apply. 

Do Penn State faculty or staff who serve as guest speakers at youth programs need to have the clearances?

Guest speakers are exempt from the clearance process. However, they are not to be left alone with children and must be supervised by cleared program staff. If guest speaking becomes routine, then the need for clearances will apply.

What about summer enrichment or other programs that are providing instruction to minors in the summer months?

Programs that are specifically designed for and delivered to minors are subject to clearance requirements. The law requires school employees who are responsible for the welfare of a child or have direct contact with children in youth programs or services to obtain clearances.

What are outside organizations/groups who hold their youth programs on campus required to do with regard to these clearances?

Outside organizations using Penn State facilities for youth programs are required to sign an indemnification agreement that requires groups to follow policy AD39, which requires those persons working with minors to obtain clearances. 

Are one-day programs, such as those where high school students from local school districts visit a Penn State campus, covered by these requirements?

This will vary by program and depends on who is responsible for the children. Any Penn State employee who is responsible for the welfare of a child or who has direct contact with children in youth programs or services will need to obtain clearances. 

What about out-of-state teachers who come to work within a Penn State Youth Program?

If the person is a paid employee within a Penn State youth program and is responsible for the welfare of a child or has direct contact with children in youth programs or services, he/she will need to obtain clearances. 

For more information, email Denise Shivery, communications and training specialist with the Office of Ethics and Compliance.

Last Updated June 29, 2015