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Nonprofit & Religious Organizations Alert
NEW YEAR – NEW LAW
Background Checks Required for Employees Working with Minors

December 30, 2014
Client Alert

A new law requiring newly hired and current employees or volunteers who work with minors to submit to regular criminal background checks will go into effect in Pennsylvania on Dec. 31, 2014. The law is one of several amendments to Pennsylvania’s Domestic Relations statute that are designed to strengthen the Commonwealth’s child protection and child abuse laws in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Under the new law – House Bill 435, Act Number 153 (2014) – prospective employees whose duties involve “child care services” (defined as those activities subject to licensure or approval by Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services) or prospective adult volunteers responsible for the welfare of children or whose duties involve “direct contact with minors” (defined as the “care, supervision, guidance or control of children, or routine interaction with children”) must submit the following information to a potential employer/supervisor:

  1. Pennsylvania Criminal History Report or a statement from the Pennsylvania State Police that the State Police Central Repository contains no such information relating to the applicant;
  2. Certification from Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services stating whether the applicant is named in the statewide database as the perpetrator in a pending or concluded child abuse investigation; and
  3. Federal Criminal History Report, including a set of fingerprints.

Employers, in turn, must ensure the applicant produces originals of the above documentation prior to commencing employment and are further required to maintain a copy of each document on file. Any applicant whose criminal history indicates a felony offense within the past five years cannot be approved for hire or must be dismissed if already on the job. A pending child abuse investigation is not disqualifying, but a concluded investigation identifying the applicant as the perpetrator would be. Once on the job, the employee or volunteer is required to keep the information up to date by submitting new documentation every three years. And although compliance is not a condition of continued employment for current employees covered by the law, they still must submit the required information within three years of the date of any previous background check unless that information is older than three years or is nonexistent, in which case current employees have until Dec. 31, 2015, to comply.

Since the type of position involving direct contact with minors varies widely, the new background check requirement applies to a broad spectrum of employee or volunteer positions. Specifically, the statute applies to:

  • School employees.
  • Child care service employees.
  • Foster parents.
  • Prospective adoptive parents.
  • Self-employed day care providers.
  • Individuals over 14 years old applying for a paid position involving direct contact with children.
  • Individuals over 18 years old who live with foster or prospective adoptive parents for at least 30 days per year.
  • Temporary or provisional employees relating to the above.
  • Unpaid volunteer positions involving direct contact with children.
For administrative or support personnel, the background check and reporting requirements do not apply unless the administrative or support position involves direct contact with minors. The law has some teeth in that any knowing or willful failure to comply – for both employers and employees – is a third-degree misdemeanor.

Navigating a new regulatory scheme is always a complex undertaking. While the background check and reporting requirements of House Bill 435 are straightforward, every situation will have its own nuances. As this new law begins to be implemented and is better understood, agencies that serve children and young people will face new challenges. Those in the business of educating or caring for children in Pennsylvania should adopt or adapt policies and procedures to ensure compliance with this new law with respect to both current and prospective employees or volunteers.

The posting of information on this website, or the receipt of information by viewers of this website, is not intended to – and does not – create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not intended to provide legal advice, and visitors to this website should refrain from acting on information posted here without seeking specific legal advice from individually qualified counsel. 

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