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Background Checks & Pre-Employment Screening – Part 1

Background Checks - An Unfortunate Necessity

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Church Pre-employment Background  Checks  - No Longer an Option for Employees or Volunteers

Since the 1980s, there has been a explosion of litigation and media attention relating to misconduct by ministers and teachers who violate their position of trust in the church. When these incidents occur within the church, the consequences are devastating for the individuals involved, their families, the denomination, and the community at large. It also provides a poor witness to the community.

The failure of a church to use reasonable care in the selection of both paid employees and volunteer workers can subject the church to law suits for liability and legal damages for the actions of a problem employee or volunteer. Suits can allege that the church failed to accurately check references, criminal records or general background information that could have shown the staff member’s likelihood for criminal or improper behavior. The legal concepts of "negligent hiring" and "negligent supervision" are themes in many of the lawsuits arising from sexual misconduct and accidental death or injury. Ultimately, it will be up to a jury to determine if your church exercised reasonable care in the screening process.

More important than avoidance of litigation is the safety of the children and members of the church. A proper screening and hiring process can save members of your church from sexual predators, criminals and church bus drivers with bad driving records. It is the responsibility of the church to do everything possible to protect the congregation.

Staff and Volunteer Background Screening is no longer an option;  it is a necessity to protect the members and the institution.  Regardless of size of your church, it must be more careful than ever; for the sake of its members, their finances and the witness of the church. Job applicants, existing staff members, volunteers and independent contractors must be asked to submit to a background check. For some positions, screening is required by federal or state law. Your church may be in violation of the law and you not know it!


Three Significant Liabilities in the Church Today

Sexual Misconduct - One of the greatest risks facing churches today is the problem of child sexual abuse. Every year, an estimated 2.4 million children are physically abused. In the last few years, the abuse of children by church staff has earned headline attention, making the public more and more aware of the need to background check. Thoroughly screening workers helps to ward off potential molesters. If sexual abuse does occur in a church program, churches that have screened the alleged perpetrator will be in a better position to reduce their liability risk by showing they acted with reasonable care in the selection of the worker

Accidental Death or Injury - Another risk facing churches is the negligent selection of drivers. Conducting a Motor Vehicle Check is important, both for the safety of the passengers, as well as to reduce potential liability risk to the church. Suppose a death occurred following a tragic van accident and it was learned that the church driver who caused the accident had a history of driving violations and did not have a valid license. Furthermore, suppose the church did nothing to screen that driver. An allegation of negligent selection may follow.

Theft and Financial Malfeasance - Conducting a Credit File Check helps to protect the financial assets of the church. It makes sense to screen individuals who have responsibilities for the oversight and management of the church's finances. Credit checks should be an absolute requirement for the position of Senior Pastor or any other position that will be involved in church finances.

Proper pre-employment background screening costs very little but greatly increases safety.

Background checks on church staff and volunteers help:

  • Safeguard the church, its members, and children, and
  • Reduces the risk of a lawsuit if a problem should occur later.

On the other hand, the cost of not doing proper background can be quite high.

  • The trauma to victims.
  • The emotional and spiritual impact on the congregation.
  • The negative news coverage.
  • The stress of litigation and the investigative process.
  • The financial cost of defense, even when not guilty..
  • The personal impact on church leaders.

Today, security and safety aware churches have opened their eyes (and checkbook) after understanding the inherent risks in not performing pre-employment background checks. While it may feel intrusive, ministries must apply a background check not only to people being hired as full-time employees, but also volunteer workers. Churches are legally responsible not only for their paid staff, but for volunteer workers. The issue of volunteer workers is very relevant given that many children's and youth ministries require large numbers of volunteer workers.


Part 2 - The Two Edged Sword of Background Screening

Part 3 - Selecting a Background Screening Vendor for Your Church


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