Policies & Contracts

204 - Reference and Background Checks

Subject: Reference and Background Checks

Section: U204

Date: August, 2021


To provide guidelines for conducting background and reference checks on staff new hires and internal applicants.

Who is governed by this policy:

This policy applies to all applicants with conditional offers of employment for staff positions, both new hires and internal applicants.


The University requires all newly hired staff employees (benefits eligible, non-benefits eligible and temporary) to undergo a background check. Minors are excluded from background check requirements, though there may be other hiring requirements specific to minors. (See U216 Safety of Children in University Programs.)

The background check is to be completed only after a conditional offer of employment has been made and accepted by the applicant. A valid background check report will be conducted before the hire or conversion date. Background checks must include the following:

  • Criminal history, which includes a registered sex offender check;
  • Academic credential verification (transferring academic employees may be excluded).

As described below, the background check also may include credit history, motor vehicle records, employment verification, professional license and certification verification, or other job-related information.

A background check must be completed and a satisfactory report received before a new hire may start work.

In exceptional circumstances, the Associate Vice President of Human Resources (AVP) (or designee) or the department/unit head may authorize an applicant to begin work before a satisfactory report has been received by submitting a letter of authorization on department letterhead to the Shared Services Office (SSO).

If a background check was completed within the past twelve months, the results from the previous background check can be used to confirm eligibility for hire in lieu of initiating a new background check. An employee who terminates employment and is later rehired by the University will be required to have a background check completed if the background check in the employee’s file is older than twelve months.

Although Minors are excluded from the background check requirement, they may be subject to reference checks and other pre-hiring requirements.


All applicants who are interviewed for a position must complete and certify the accuracy of a job profile and complete and certify the accuracy of an authorization to complete a background check. Applicants must provide addresses, including international addresses if applicable, for the previous seven years to ensure the appropriate criminal history checks are completed. An applicant who refuses to certify these items will be eliminated from further consideration for employment.

After the applicant receives and accepts a conditional job offer, the SSO will initiate the background check for regular staff positions. For those positions, a Standard Background Package will be completed. If noted on the job requisition, for certain regular staff positions in the Biological Sciences Division a Joint Commission Background Package will be completed. The HR Partner or the Hiring Manager will initiate a Voluntary Background Check Package for a temporary position. If a temporary employee is hired into a regular staff position within twelve months of their previous background check, an a la carte Education Only Background Check must be completed. If the previous background check was conducted more than twelve months earlier, a Standard or Joint Commission Background Check Package, whichever is appropriate, must be completed.  

The University contracts with a third-party background check agency which conducts criminal background investigations and employment and academic verification as allowed by applicable law.

Reference Checks

The HR Partner and/or Hiring Manager should conduct reference checks by contacting at least two (2) professional references. Reference checks can also be completed by requesting the assistance of SSO. Reference checks should be completed before conveying an offer to an applicant.

If the University does not contact an applicant’s current/most recent employer as part of the pre-offer reference check process, the current/most recent employer should be contacted after a conditional offer of employment has been made and accepted by the applicant.

For an internal applicant, the Hiring Manager should take special care to ensure the application is confidential. As a courtesy, the Hiring Manager should only contact the internal applicant’s current manager/unit with the applicant’s agreement, or after the internal applicant has been extended and accepted a conditional offer of employment.

Information provided by references and gathered during the reference check must be retained, along with other application materials, for a minimum of seven years for the applicant who is hired and for three years for all other applicants.

Motor Vehicle Record Check

The Office of Risk Management and Internal Audit conducts motor vehicle record checks and evaluates driving records. Any applicant for a position that requires the operation of a motor vehicle will be ineligible for the position if his/her motor vehicle record shows driving-related convictions or excessive moving violations, as set forth in the University's Vehicle Loss Control Program.

Credit History Check

A satisfactory credit history may only be required when it is a bona fide occupational requirement of the position and as allowed by law. A credit history check may be conducted for jobs that must include one or more of the following responsibilities:

  • Management responsibility for setting the direction or control of the department;
  • Access to sensitive information that a student or patient authorizes the University to obtain, process, and keep to which only managers and a select few employees have access;
  • Access to financial information that is non-public and relates to the overall financial direction of the University;
  • Confidential information that is stored in secure repositories not accessible to the public or low-level employees, or national security information;
  • Custody of or unsupervised access to cash or marketable assets, which means University property that is specially safeguarded from the public and to which access is only entrusted to managers and select other employees (does not include fixtures, furnishings, or equipment); or
  • Signatory power over business assets over $100 or more per transaction.

Use of Background Check Report Information

Upon completion of the background check, the agency conducting the check will provide the SSO with a complete report. To ensure confidentiality of applicant information, the SSO will receive the report, communicate with the HR Partner and/or Hiring Manager, and confirm whether the applicant is eligible for employment in the position. Data and information collected as part of the background check report shall not be used for the purpose of evaluating the applicant for employment unless otherwise permitted or required by law. HR will maintain data collected as part of the background check in separate confidential files. Any employee who is responsible for an unauthorized disclosure of information collected under this policy will be subject to corrective action up to and including termination of employment.

The HR Partner and/or Hiring Manager will gather, evaluate, and maintain any job-related background check information and verifications not included in the background check conducted by the agency such as reference checks or professional certifications.

Having a criminal conviction does not automatically preclude employment. The University will only take adverse employment actions based on conviction records if the University determines that there is a “substantial relationship” between the criminal offenses and the position being filled, or the University determines that the granting of the employment would involve an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare to specific individuals or the general public. A “substantial relationship” exists when the position offers the opportunity for the applicant to engage in a similar offense or the circumstances leading up to the offense. The AVP of Human Resources (or designee), in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel, when necessary, evaluates the relevance of the criminal history of the individual being considered for hire to the position being filled on a case-by case basis. In addition to relevance of the offense to the particular job, the University will consider the nature and severity of the offense and its relationship to the safety and security of others, the number of convictions, the facts or circumstances surrounding it, the proximity in time of the conviction, the age of the applicant at the time of the conviction, and any evidence of rehabilitation efforts. The only data and information that the hiring manager will receive concerning an applicant's criminal history is whether the investigation on the applicant yielded satisfactory or unsatisfactory results.

If a current employee's background check information precludes the employee from being hired into a new position, the employee typically will remain in his/her former position. However, if the employee's background check information reflects that the employee is not qualified or casts doubt on his/her ability to safely perform the former job duties, the employee may be precluded from returning to his/her former position and may apply for a vacant position for which he/she is qualified.

Hiring an applicant when the background investigation yields unsatisfactory results must be approved in writing by the Office of Legal Counsel.

Information obtained in a background check will be compared with information provided by the applicant. An applicant who provides false, incomplete, or misleading information on a profile, resume, or in an interview will be immediately eliminated from further consideration for employment. An employee who provides false, incomplete, or misleading information during the application or interview process may be subject to corrective action up to and including termination of employment. (See U208 Termination of Employment.)

Applicant Rights and Obligations

Applicants for employment, promotion, or vacant positions must disclose criminal convictions (excluding convictions that have been sealed or expunged) on the Background Check Authorization Form provided by the background check agency.

If the University intends to take an adverse employment action because of information in the background check report received from the agency, the University will provide the applicant with a pre-adverse action letter or notice that an adverse action may be taken based at least in part on information provided in the background check report, a copy of the information on which the adverse action will be based, and other information as required by law. The University will provide the applicant with at least five (5) business days to respond, and when applicable, will consider the applicant’s evidence before making a final decision.

An applicant denied employment based on unsatisfactory results of the background check report who believes his or her background information is incorrect as reported by the agency, may contact the agency or other entities to provide correct information.  The applicant is ineligible for hire to the position unless the official records confirm the correction to the information.

If the University decides to take an adverse employment because of information in the background check report, the University will provide the applicant with an adverse action letter informing the applicant of his/her rights as required by law.

key definitions:

Word/Phrase Definition

An individual who, in a timely manner: requests to be considered for employment; completes a profile/application as required by the University; identifies a specific position opening; and is minimally qualified (i.e., possess the required knowledge, skills, education and experience) for the position opening.

 Internal Applicant

A current employee who establishes themselves as an applicant. 

 Temporary Position

A position that is expected to continue for less than twelve months. 

Regular Staff Position 

 A position that is classified as staff and does not serve in a temporary or seasonal capacity. 

Benefits Eligible Position

 A regular staff position that is scheduled to work an average of 20 hours or more per week and is therefore eligible for benefits.

Non-benefits Eligible Position

 A regular staff position that is scheduled to work an average of 19.5 hours per week or less. 


 An individual who is under the age of 18.

Roles and Responsibilities: 

Governed Party Roles and Responsibilities
HR Partner The HR Partner is responsible as the representative for the department in all human resources issues and processes staff transactions in HR systems.
COE-Talent Acquisition Talent Acquisition is the Center of Expertise responsible for oversight of the talent acquisition policies and processes of the University.
Hiring Manager The Hiring Manager is responsible for requesting the new or vacant position, generally the position being filled will report to the Hiring Manager.
Shared Services Office The SSO is responsible for initiating background checks for all staff positions and offering assistance with reference checks, as requested. SSO will also approving key transactional HR activities for staff employees and providing assistance to Workday end users.

Related Information:

Policy U202 Talent Acquisition

Policy U203 Temporary Employment

Policy U208 Termination of Employment

Policy U214 Regular Non-Benefits Eligible Employment

Policy U216 Safety of Children in University Programs

Key Contacts:

Name Email Extension
Center of Expertise – Talent & Rewards talentacquisition@uchicago.edu