University of Illinois Employees Not Pleased with New Background Check Policy

By Michael Klazema on 5/6/2015

For as long as most can remember, the University of Illinois has had an unusually lax background check policy in place for its employees. Certain individuals have always been expected to undergo screenings prior to employment, such as any workers in charge of handling money or finances, or anyone working in the university hospital. Other background check polices have been added more recently, like screenings for any employees who work closely or consistently with children, a policy put in place following the Penn State child sex abuse scandal that broke in 2012.

As for U of I's everyday professors or hourly workers, though, background checks have never been a requirement. That's all changing this year, as the university expands background check policies to include every full-time faculty member, part-time professor, contract worker, or academic professional that works there. Student workers will be mostly exempt from the policy—which will likely be implemented in June, but every other new hire will have to go through a background check. It is unclear whether U of I intends to run background checks on existing employees, or just on new hires.

Still, while existing professors and faculty members might not even be affected by the new background check policy, in an article published by The News-Gazette, a newspaper that operates in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, many quoted professors aired their grievances about the new measure. Some questioned why the University of Illinois even needed to run background checks of all of its employees; others wondered about the privacy implications of the new policy; one professor even wondered if the policy would scare off minority applicants, "given disproportionately higher conviction rates," while another thought that background checks should be skipped to give ex-offenders a chance at employment.

At least one faculty member, though, a law professor, understood why the university was making such substantial changes to the background check policy. As the professor noted, employers in Illinois (and in most parts of the United States) can face liability if they fail to run background checks on employees. Under the current policy, where many faculty members at the University of Illinois have not undergone background checks, the school could face negligent hiring lawsuits if something went wrong and, for instance, a professor harmed a student. By doing their due diligence and running background checks on every new hire, U of I will be avoiding such risks in the future.

As for the fear that background checks will impact minority or ex-offend employment opportunity, both of those complaints are rendered more or less void by the fact that Illinois observes ban the box policies. Under ban the box laws, Illinois employers cannot ask about criminal history on job applications, or run background checks until later in the screening process. And since University of Illinois has vowed to only run background checks on applicants after they have been given a conditional offer of employment, the school will clearly not be turning away ex-offenders and minorities en masse.


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