A volunteer organization may be required under state or local laws to screen volunteers, depending largely on the nature of the services. Some states require volunteers who will be working with children, the elderly, or persons with disabilities to be screened with a criminal background check. Additionally, licensing requirements in some states may also require criminal history checks for any person on the staff of the licensed organization.
Archive for November, 2008
Screening criteria generally become more useful the more specific they are. This will pinpoint areas of concern, and not unnecessarily disqualify applicants.
The phrase ‘drug-related offenses’ covers everything from a single misdemeanor possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to felony racketeering. Narrowing the categories of offenses to target specific relevant offenses, and within a defined time period, can be much more useful. There are several factors which should be taken into consideration when reviewing criminal records and how the offense applies to the situation at hand: the age of the individual at the time of the offense, the societal context in which the offense occurred, the probability that the type of behavior will continue, and the person’s commitment to rehabilitation and changing the behavior in question. In general, crimes occurring within the past year or two may well be more relevant than those in the distant past (which exception, of course, of sexually exploitive offenses which remain an unacceptable risk when working with vulnerable populations).
Personal safety is the primary concern for children and other vulnerable populations. Relevant criminal offenses that would disqualify a volunteer from working with these groups generally include crimes against persons. Organizations serving youths generally permanently disqualify any individual from a position requiring substantial contact with children if their crimes include any of the following: past history of sexual abuse, conviction of any crime in which children were involved, and history of any violence or sexually exploitive behavior. The relevance of other offenses depends on the position involved. For example, a position working in home-health care would likely have access to prescription drugs and therefore a recent record of certain drug-related offenses would have relevance.
One of the most important aspects of establishing guidelines for use of criminal background checks in volunteer screening is to determine relevant offenses. Specifically, within the context of the nonprofit’s mission, what offenses should be considered relevant for not accepting a volunteer application. Relevance generally relates most directly to the function of specific positions within the organization.
When to Background Check
Some organizations will even limit the use of criminal background checks to those positions with substantial direct contact with children (as defined by state law), or who will be working in the homes of vulnerable individuals.
Check Laws and Regulations
Care must always be taken to account for state and local regulations and laws. Some have screening or licensing requirements for just those kinds of positions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, reports annually on the number of volunteers in the United States. Between September 2006 and September 2007, more than 60 million people volunteered at least once. For additional information in the annual report, released in January 2008, please visit http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htm
As with other forms of background checking for tenant screening, or pre-employment screening, applicants for volunteer positions have the right to have the privacy respected, and to be treated fairly. Occasionally, criminal background reports contain incorrect information due to a variety of reporting errors, and applicants need to have the opportunity to challenge the accuracy of any information received. It would be proper to assume the information is correct until it has been corrected and a new report received, however. It is also important for nonprofit organizations to understand their responsibilities with regard to the information received. A good background screening company can assist with that information. In general, care should be taken to govern who has access to the information, how it is stored, and how it is destroyed once it is no longer needed.
Once you have decided that you will use background screening for your volunteers, and have established clear position descriptions for those volunteers, the next step is to decide how the criminal history portion of the screening will be applied to each kind of volunteer in your organization. This step is particularly important to many nonprofit organizations because they often serve vulnerable populations. You should establish clear guidelines regarding what kind of offenses are relevant, which disqualify a volunteer applicant, and what other factors will be considered in decision making. These guidelines need to be clearly defined in writing so that the rights of the applicant are also protected.