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Best practices for employee and volunteer background checks

By Mary Carder, Integrated Marketing Specialist on February 13, 2020

Most faiths teach the values of acceptance and forgiveness. So, it may seem in poor taste to require background checks for potential volunteers and employees for your worship center, but to protect your congregation and the community it serves, background checks are essential.

Begin with a written policy

If your worship center hasn’t required background checks for employees and volunteers previously, it may catch members offer guard to ask for them now. Help ease the transition by explaining the need for the new process and providing a written policy.

The policy should outline how background checks will be applied to the screening process and what factors would remove a candidate from further consideration. The policy needs to apply to all applicants and clearly state that the same standards will be applied to everyone.


Link it to the job

What information included in the background check will depend on what job the volunteer will perform. A credit check would be appropriate for a potential new treasurer, while a complete driving record should be obtained for anyone driving on behalf of your organization.

When posting an open position with your worship center, think carefully about all of the duties expected of the volunteer or employee, including whether or not they will interact with children, the elderly or other vulnerable groups. Which responsibilities would warrant a background check?

Rather than risk surprising applicants with a background check further along in the process, be up front and make them aware of the requirement within the job description. It helps soften the ask by connecting the requirement with the position and your organization’s mission. For example, when requesting a credit report for a financial position you might phrase it as:

To help ensure that funds are used appropriately and wisely, and to facilitate trust with donors,
applicants must consent to a credit report and background check.

Learn more on how to write effective job descriptions  >>>

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Follow the law

In addition to certain states and municipalities, there are federal laws regarding background checks for employment/volunteer purposes. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets requirements when using background reports to screen applicants. These requirements can be summarized into 3 key actions:

  • Inform the applicant of what information will be used and how
  • Obtain written consent from the applicant to run the background check
  • Notify an applicant before taking an adverse action


While many organizations are likely familiar with the practice of asking for written consent, they might not be as familiar with the procedures the FCRA requires when rejecting a candidate based on a background check.

Before taking an adverse action, such as rejecting a candidate, you must notify the applicant in advance of making the final decision. Your notice must include a copy of the report and a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” The candidate should have time to review the report and address any discrepancies before the adverse action is taken.

Once the final decision has been made to disqualify a candidate, the FCRA requires organizations to once again send notification. This time the notice must:

  • Include the name and contact information of the company that conducted the report
  • Inform them the background check company did not make the final decision and will be unable to answer questions regarding
  • Explain their rights to
  • Dispute inaccurate or incomplete information
  • An additional copy of the report for free within 60 days


Protect the most vulnerable

There are cases in which a standard background check may not provide all of the necessary information. For positions that deal directly with children, the elderly and disabled, it’s best – and often legally required – to err on the side of caution and opt for the most accurate reporting available.

Most background checks rely on names and other simple identifiers to gather information. However, an FBI check relies on fingerprints to identify and retrieve relevant information. Thanks to laws such as The National Child Protection Act and the Volunteers for Children Act, businesses and volunteer organizations that provide services for vulnerable groups have access to these files through state agencies.

Most commercial background reporting companies do not have access to the FBI’s database and will not include this information. However, even FBI records can be incomplete, as they rely on states for information, and each state varies on the information it gives. To get the most complete picture of a candidate’s possible criminal history, it’s best to require both.

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Some religious organizations fear requiring background checks will deter people from applying, but by clearly communicating what information you’ll be checking and why, potential volunteers and employees will appreciate and understand the need. In fact, some volunteer organizations link background checks to higher retention rates.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to your mission. As a faith-based organization, that means protecting and guiding your community. Background checks are just one way to help further those goals while still providing much-needed services.

How have you implemented background checks for your volunteers and employees? Do you have any tips for other worship centers? Let us know!

Mary Carder, Integrated Marketing Specialist


The information contained in this blog post is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace expert advice in connection with the topics presented. Glatfelter specifically disclaims any liability for any act or omission by any person or entity in connection with the preparation, use or implementation of plans, principles, concepts or information contained in this publication.

Glatfelter does not make any representation or warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the results obtained by the use, adherence or implementation of the material contained in this publication. The implementation of the plans, principles, concepts or materials contained in this publication is not a guarantee that you will achieve a certain desired result. It is strongly recommended that you consult with a professional advisor, architect or other expert prior to the implementation of plans, principles, concepts or materials contained in this publication.

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