Do Volunteers Require Background Checks?


Background Checks for Volunteers

Background screening is increasing in use– not just in the private sector, but also in the public and nonprofit world. There is simply too much at stake for a company not to take precautions with potential new hires. But what about when it comes to volunteers who donate their time to help? Do these workers need background checks?

If your company uses volunteers for any of its functions, regardless of importance, it is a good idea to put in place some policies that include background checks. With unemployment rates high, this will have increasing importance as many will try to get back to work with a “foot in the door” via volunteerism.

The information you seek out will probably relate to the tasks the volunteer would be performing, but as always, we recommend you treat each volunteer applicant equally in terms of what you screen for. Is the potential volunteer going to handle money? Will they see after children or the elderly? Will they drive a company vehicle? These are all good questions to ask yourself heading into a search, that way you have an idea what pertinent information to look for.

Applying Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines to volunteers

A refresher could always be used when discussing guidelines in place for using a professional screening company. At the federal level, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines lead the way. However, there are also regulations at the state and even in the local jurisdictional areas to be aware of. While not specific to volunteer placement, these are solid principles to follow when considering volunteer employment:

  • Know what you are looking for. While it is not illegal for an employer to ask questions about an applicant's background, certain areas are off limits. A person's work history, education, criminal record, financial history and use of social media are acceptable areas- but the latter three can only be broached once an offer has been made.
  • Federal laws protect both applicants and employees from discrimination, so it is of the utmost importance to make sure you treat everyone equally. Discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, genetic information and age is prohibited and is enforced by the EEOC. No matter how you receive this information (using a certified, professional background company or a human resource department), you must comply with the law.
  • Do not ask any medical questions before a conditional job offer has been made. If the person has already started the job, the EEOC suggests that you don't ask medical questions unless you have objective evidence that an employee is unable to do their job or pose a safety risk because of a medical condition.
  • If you get background information (i.e., a credit or criminal background report) from a company that collects such information, the applicant must be informed of the use of information for employment decisions. This notice must be in writing and separate from the employment application. If you are asking a company to provide an investigative report based on personal interviews concerning a person's character, reputation, characteristics and lifestyle, you are legally required to tell the applicant of their right to the nature and scope of your process.
  • Always get a volunteer’s written permission to perform a background check. This can be part of the document you use to notify the person that you will get the report.

Taking advantage of quality volunteer help can go a long way in keeping a business afloat and moving forward during tough economic times. Helping to navigate their use is where a professionally accredited firm like Risk Assessment Group is key to your future success.

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