Pennsylvania Universities Win the Right to Background Check All Employees

By Michael Klazema on 4/9/2020

In 2014, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PSSHE) enacted new rules requiring criminal background checks for all staff and athletic coaches across the system's 14 schools. A reaction to the Penn State abuse scandal, PSSHE stated that the new policy would help protect children who incidentally interact with members of staff on campus. 

The new guidelines go beyond the rules laid out by the Pennsylvania legislature. State lawmakers require background checks, such as's US OneSEARCH, only for those in consistent contact with minor children. 

The union representing PSSHE alleged that the authorities overstepped their boundaries and that the background check terms should be subject to collective bargaining negotiations. In early 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of PSSHE, finding that setting the terms of background checks fell within the organization's purview. One judge dissented, noting that those who would not otherwise have to undergo vetting should have the ability to bargain about the scope of such checks. 

The ruling represents the next step in the nationwide evolution of background checks for teachers. Should educational and youth organizations vet every single individual they hire or only those who will come into direct contact with children in a supervisory role? What should count as a disqualifying charge? These challenging questions face administrators in school districts and university systems across the country. Some daycares choose to adopt rules as strict as those used by PSSHE, vetting everyone from custodians to gardeners. The goal: to ensure that there are as few risks present near children as possible. 

Organizations implementing such policies must be cautious in how they proceed. There is often a patchwork of state and local regulations to navigate as well as fair hiring concerns, as the case in Pennsylvania shows. PSSHE spent six years litigating its case up to the highest state court in Pennsylvania; not all businesses may be able to sustain such a process.

Ultimately, the appropriate policy will depend on the organization. PSSHE stated that many children spent time on the campuses of its schools who were often indirectly exposed to individuals who may never have received a background check. That fact made a stricter, broader policy the most sensible choice for the school system.

Creating a safe environment in which children may learn and grow is of paramount importance, but schools are far from the only organizations which benefit from better vetting. From background checks for coaches at youth sports groups to checks for supervisors in after-school childcare programs, clubs, and activities, organizations of all kinds need the appropriate tools for gathering information. With and powerful tools such as our US OneSEARCH, you can develop the insight necessary to hire or retain staff safely. 

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