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UA News
New UA employees may soon face new background checks

By Kaila Wyman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 16, 2002

Proposed background checks may lower the number of job applications drastically

The UA Human Resources Department is pushing to get more background checks for prospective employees campus-wide.

When Northern Arizona University started doing background checks on job applicants as part of their hiring process, the number of people applying for NAU jobs dropped 27 percent.

"We are really the only significant employer in Tucson that doesn't (check backgrounds)," said Cathy Nicholson, director of institutional relations and information technology.

Prospective employees who do not pass background checks at other job sites sometimes migrate to UA because most positions don't require background checks, Nicholson said.

"It's just considered prudent practice for large employers," said Steve Holland, director of risk management and safety. "If you're in a large community and other people do them and you don't then you end up with the leftovers that translates in time into employees with theft or other problems in their background."

There have not been many cases where background checks could have prevented problems from arising with employees, although they do come up from time to time, said Allison Vaillancourt, executive director of human resources.

Recently hired deans and UA police officers are among the UA employees who receive background checks before they are hired, Holland said.

Background checks can range from simple checks with former employers to extensive reports on past misdemeanor or criminal history, depending upon what the prospective employer requests.

Most organizations check for convicted felonies that have occurred in the last seven years. If the felony is related to the position the potential hire is applying for then that is a serious concern. This also works the same way with misdemeanors. If the felony or misdemeanor is not related to the working environment then it is a judgment call, Vaillancourt said.

Although the criteria for the university checks have not been determined, it is most likely that they will follow guidelines of that sort.

The positions in which background checks will be implemented are still up for discussion.

"(Background checks) could be for everybody, job classifications or for certain departments," Vaillancourt said. "You have to have a consistent practice to make sure that it is fair."

Doing background checks for all new hires is one option, Holland said.

Each department would pay for the background checks, which range from $25 to $100.

"I support background checks myself," said Lisa Wakefield, president of the Staff Advisory Council. "With the things that have been happening at this day in age, it's just an extra precaution that the university can take to protect its employees."

Human Resources is responding to several requests from departments that would like to see background checks in effect, Vaillancourt said.

"I think that we should do them on every new potential hire, but that's got to be a broader university conversation," Vaillancourt said.

Vaillancourt, Nicholson, Holland and Vicki Gotkin, a university attorney, make up a small task force that has been put together to design a proposal that will be presented to provost George Davis within the next month.

The final decision as to whether expanded background checks will be implemented or not will be up to the president's cabinet, Vaillancourt said.


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