Pennsylvania Provides Guidelines for FBI Background Checks Delayed by COVID-19

By Michael Klazema on 6/4/2020

In many sensitive employment or volunteer situations, such as providing child care or being a foster parent, a clean and clear background is one of or the most critical factor to consider in hiring. Many states set stringent vetting requirements to do as much as possible to ensure that only qualified and trustworthy professionals work in these positions. State lawmakers typically use the FBI background check as a standard for looking into an individual's past, which requires fingerprints to run.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, gathering fingerprints is no longer a quick and simple task. Instead, many locations that collect fingerprints and submit them for background checking have closed or must operate at a reduced capacity. The result is a backlog of background checks and a large group of new hires who cannot meet the full requirements of their pre-employment agreement. Such is the case in Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation creating extensions in response to the unprecedented circumstances.

According to the new law, signed in mid-May, new hires required to submit to fingerprinting may delay the process until the expiration of the governor's emergency declaration. When the state of emergency ends, applicants must visit an open site for fingerprint collection within 60 days to complete their background checks. For vetted individuals who must renew their clearances, the new deadline is December 31, 2020. 

The stated purpose of the legislation is to allow individuals to respect social distancing at collection sites while acknowledging that some have no current access to open sites. Unaffected by the rule changes are other pre-employment checks, such as searches of the state's child abuse registry. Since these processes occur online, applicants must still complete them as a condition of employment. Signing the law, the governor still urged those who can safely complete their checks now to do so to avoid unnecessary individual delays. 

For businesses not required by law to use an FBI background check for their open positions, there are more flexible solutions available. The US OneSEARCH by provides rapid access to hundreds of millions of criminal records held in electronic databases nationwide. From the county to the state level, such tools provide a broad yet detailed snapshot of an individual's criminal history. Since they do not need fingerprints to produce results, and because most state computer systems are only minimally impacted by COVID-19, these options remain useful.

Businesses must prepare to move forward, including with hiring and vetting. With helpful extensions, such as those provided to Pennsylvania businesses, and the right tools for pre-employment vetting, getting back to work is simpler. Businesses should continue to monitor the situation, and prospective employees should take steps to understand the pandemic-related contingencies available for their benefit and protection. 

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