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The Background Screening Lifecycle Explained for Church Administrators
By: Donald J. Dymer

It is widely known that embezzlers and sexual predators see faith-based groups as soft targets, where the inherent trust of people is a foundation of the organization, where the belief often exists that no one would steal, or assault a child, or worse. Sadly, this is not the case and those very tenets upon which faith-based groups are founded leaves the door wide open unless a consistent background screening program is in place. So, let us describe what such a program should provide, what the law says about how it must be conducted, and what is involved in its operation.

The Objective of a background screening program is to identify anyone whose past behavior indicates that they are not suitable for the role you want them to play in the organization. To ascertain this, a number of things need to be accomplished. Who are they, where have they worked or volunteered before, do they have any criminal history, and if they will drive the bus or their own car on organization events or business do they have a good driving history, and are they substance abusers?

If a poorly selected applicant is granted access to your organization and commits accts of dishonesty against it, there is no physical harm and the only loss is financial. If a person given to violence of any kind is allowed access and assaults anyone, the result is likely to be a negligent hiring lawsuit with its associated financial devastation, reputation destruction, and a major loss of members.

There are many Options available and ways to conduct the process. It can all be done in house by organization staff, but the reality is that it is rarely a good idea. Certainly, telephone calls to previous employers, volunteer groups, etc. are the most attainable in house, but criminal record checks, driving histories, and drug tests should be left to the experts.

First the "National" search. The only database that might contain truly national criminal data is maintained by the FBI and is not available to the masses. The databases searches you are offered as "National" are compiled data from many sources throughout the United States and do have a value as a secondary source to point in the direction of other repositories to search, but they are not current, not comprehensive on a national basis and should not be a prime source for criminal record checks. That said, they also offer value in that they effectively identify Social Security numbers and provide a search of all 50 states plus the territories Sexual Offender Registers.

Instant Internet searches are usually from such databases and once again do not offer value for money, nor more importantly a lawfully compliant inquiry.

We have mentioned The Law a couple of times now, so let's discuss the legal obligations you must meet when you conduct criminal record background screening for employees or volunteers.  There is one caveat to these requirements, and that is if you conduct them in house, you have no obligations under these laws, but you must avoid discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. 

At this point of the discussion, those not used to the hiring process and dealing with regulations start to panic. In the faith-based organizations the task of bring in a new pastor, hiring employees, and the use of volunteers often falls to a committee itself made up of volunteers and so it is understandable that the fear of the unknown will cause some trepidation. Assuming that a third party provider is going to be used for these inquiries, it is essential when selecting that company that you establish that they provide compliant programs, compliant with federal and state law. 

Federal legal requirements fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the EEOC Guidelines on the Use of Criminal Records in Employment (the Guidelines). For volunteer read employment that is a safe route to take.  Many states also have pseudo FCRA laws. This will all sound very daunting to the uninitiated, but in reality they provide a set of rules and procedures which if followed serve very well to protect the applicant/volunteer and the organization.

Before any form of background screening can commence (including references, etc.) the applicant must grant their Authority for Background Screening.  This must be a signed (can be an electronic signature) document that exists "solely for the purpose;" that is to say, it must be a standalone document that can only talk about the authority, who it is granted to, and who the third party will be conducting the inquiries. Your screening provider should be able to provide a sample.  Once you have the authority, you can commence the screening. It is important to remember also that whatever program you are using that you apply it consistently, that means the same screening program for the same position, but different positions can have different screening levels.

Once the criminal record checks are complete, you will receive a Background Screening Report, and this will determine your next action. If the report shows that the subject has No Criminal Record, then subject to any other information you have received being satisfactory, you will likely accept the applicant. But what if the record found something to indicate that this is someone you do not want in the organization?

At that point, the FCRA and Guidelines dictate that you must follow a certain procedure. This is what is legally known as taking Adverse Action. Basically, if you are considering not offering this applicant the position for which they have applied, or even later in their employment, you must first establish that the record indicates convictions not arrests, for offenses for which you can show a "Business Related Job Necessity" for disqualifying the applicant. That is to say that because of this type of conviction, for example embezzlement when they are to work with organizations financials, assault in almost any position where they are in contact with people, that they have many traffic tickets for speeding and red lights and the position involves driving the bus, you consider them unsuitable for the position.

Once you have made this decision, you must conduct an "Individualized Assessment" by talking to them to ascertain that first of all the report is accurate and if so giving them the opportunity to convince you that they are suitable. This may be based upon their history since the conviction, the time that has elapsed, have they had any other job, and how long ago and how serious this was.

Assuming the subject admits the record and it is disqualifying, you now have to provide him/her a copy of the report, a copy of their rights under the FCRA, and a letter explaining that you are considering not offering them the position wholly or partly as a result of the information received from a Consumer reporting Agency (CRA) via your background screening provider. This process is called Pre-Adverse Action under the FCRA.  

If the subject disputes the findings, he/she may contest them with your CRA.  If there is no change after the dispute resolution, you are required to send the same documents, maybe an amended report, to the applicant with a letter that tells him/her that you are not offering position because of the record received from the CRA. The whole process is also a service your provider may offer to conduct on your behalf to ensure compliance.

The content of the screening program is a matter for discussion with your vendor. But whoever you choose, it is essential that they provide effective and compliant inquiries, easy-to-understand reports, and that they are able to assist and guide you throughout the program.

Donald J. Dymer is the president and chief executive officer of SingleSource Services, a Jacksonville Beach, Florida background screening and drug testing company, www.SingleSourceServices.com.

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