Employers engaging in business where employees have “significant likelihood of regular contact with children” should be paying close attention to the amendments to Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Act, also know as Act 73. Act 73 became effective on July 1, 2008, and has taken many employers off guard.
Act 73 expands criminal background check requirements under the Child Protective Services Act beyond its traditional scope, which included employees engaging in child care professions, adoptive parents and foster families. Now, “prospective employees applying to engage in occupations with a significant likelihood of regular contact with children, in the form of care, guidance, supervision or training” must also undergo criminal background checks prior to being employed. Examples of such prospective employees identified by Act 73 include, social service workers, hospital personnel, mental health professionals, members of the clergy, counselors, librarians and doctors.
What background checks are required for covered prospective employees? A Pennsylvania criminal background check, a Department of Public Welfare clearance and a report of Federal criminal history record information verified by a fingerprint check. The Federal fingerprint check is new. Applicants with founded reports of child abuse during the five-year period preceding their application are ineligible to be hired. Applicants with any state or Federal convictions related to certain crimes (e.g. homicide, rape, indecent exposure and corruption of minors) are also ineligible to be hired.
Act 73 is creating some headaches for employers in a couple of areas. The Act’s general statement concerning “significant likelihood of regular contact with children” is not further defined and there are no anticipated regulations coming to give further guidance to employers. Employers, such as hospitals, that provide services to children and adults are struggling to define what employees fall within Act 73’s requirements. For example, housekeeping and environmental services employees may have contact with children simply by being present in the hospital, although childcare is not part of their job.
Another area causing difficulty for employers is the new requirement of a Federal background fingerprint check. Employees are initially responsible for obtaining the Federal background check. These checks can take upwards of sixty days and many applicants are simply unaware of the new requirements at the time they apply. The result has been difficulty in filling needed positions quickly. Employers are permitted to hire employees on a provisional basis provided that the employee provides proof of application for a Federal background check. Provisional hiring periods for in-state applicants cannot exceed 30 days. The period is 90 days for out of state applicants.
Employers should approach Act 73 with an abundance of caution, especially in light of its potentially broad reach. Intentional failure of a person to obtain necessary background checks from a covered applicant is a misdemeanor of the third degree.