Volunteer Background Checks

Andy Gallion
two people sitting at a table discussing forms in front of them on table

Conducting volunteer background checks is just as important as any other background check process in an organization. Screening volunteers before bringing them into your organization is critical to maintaining your organization’s safety and positive reputation. However, since volunteers are not employees, managing volunteer background checks can lead to some confusion. Below are some tips to help your organization get started.

Are Volunteer Background Checks Different than Pre-Employment Background Checks?

No, they are not. A 2011 report released by the FTC, entitled 40 Years of Experience with the Fair Credit Reporting Act: An FTC Staff Report with Summary of Interpretations, provides guidance on how to conduct volunteer background checks. The report indicates that an organization’s permissible purpose to conduct a background check on a volunteer falls under the same scope as that of an employee. Since the report’s initial release, the FTC’s interpretation has become an industry best practice, with organizations conducting volunteer checks following the same FCRA procedures required for an employment background check. This means that similar to a pre-employment background check, the organization must provide the volunteer with: (1) an FCRA-compliant authorization form, (2) an FCRA-compliant disclosure form, and (3) the FCRA Summary of Rights.

Additionally, if the organization determines that it will not bring a volunteer into its organization due to the results of the background check, the organization should follow the adverse action process prescribed in FCRA §615. Moreover, the volunteer has the right to dispute any perceived inaccuracies reported on their background check.

Am I Required to Conduct Background Checks on Volunteers?

Depending on the state laws and industry requirements that apply to your organization, you may be legally required to perform background checks on volunteers. States typically have laws in place that require organizations to conduct background checks on volunteers for activities the state regulates. Additionally, laws may specify that volunteer background checks must incorporate specific searches. For example, the healthcare industry typically requires criminal history and sex offender registry searches on volunteers that will have direct access to minors or vulnerable adults.

Even if your organization is not a regulated entity, your local organization may operate under the umbrella of a national organization. In this situation, it is possible that the national organization has a background check policy that local entities are required to follow.

If Not Required, Why Do Organizations Conduct Background Checks on Volunteers?

Absent a legal or industry requirement, organizations still consider volunteer background check policies an important aspect of their onboarding processes.  A thorough volunteer background check policy may help protect organizations from a number of potential risks by providing a safer work environment, mitigating potential lawsuits, and ensuring the right applicant is selected for the volunteer position. Additionally, if an incident involving a volunteer does occur, an organization that performed its due diligence by conducting volunteer background check may be in a better position to prove that it made a good faith effort to avoid such an incident. Organizations that incorporate volunteer background checks into their onboarding process minimize the uncertainty in who they are bringing into their organization and if that individual was actually the right fit for the position.

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

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