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Background Checks & Pre-Employment Screening – Part 3

Getting Help for Screening Church Volunteers & Staff

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To help address the concerns of church workers and legal experts, many churches are turning to outside third parties who have experience with assisting churches with pre-employment (and post-employment) background checks, and who can provide a background investigation that is independent, confidential, and consistent with the requirements of the church as well as state and federal law.


Pre-employment background checks can be extremely complex. A recent review indicated most do-it-yourself background check programs fall far short with respect to accuracy.  A professional outside third party knows the legal issues, can minimize liability and often has buying power due to the large volumes of lookups they perform, a cost saving option that a individual church would not have.


A background check that is sufficiently accurate and in-depth enough to protect the members of your church is not a trivial exercise.  The complication of doing a thorough job without violating an individuals rights makes it even more difficult.


Do it Yourself Background Check - Challenges and Additional Liability

If you were to try to do background screenings yourself, the first step would be to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to develop appropriate policies and guidelines with respect to record checks.


Once your policies/guidelines are in place and an appropriate authorization form is approved, it is then a matter of getting the proper authorization form completed by your candidates early on in the application process


Doing it yourself, the responsibility of compliance with Federal and State Law rests on the church. Some states require background screening for workers in certain programs and ministries. If you are trying to do this yourself, check with a local attorney to learn more about the laws in your state.


In order to be able to demonstrate in a court of law that you were not negligent in hiring, your church will need to search some or all of the following resources, depending on the job description and salary: Social Security Trace, National Criminal Records, Child Abuse Registries, Sex Offender Registries, State Criminal History Records and Motor Vehicle Records Check For Every State of Record.


The following reports may be optional, depending on the position: Credit Reports & Civil Records. Employment credit reports should only be sought in situations the person could affect the church financially. When staff members are handling cash, have credit cards, have access to accounting records or can commit the church financially, credit reports are excellent tools.  A civil search might reveal a restraining order, which could indicate a propensity for violence. Civil records are searched in the local courts, but also might be federal and searched in the federal district court.


As you can see, background screening  can be a complicated process and one that is not without its own liability.  Failure to insure proper permissions, proper use of information, proper disclosure and proper record keeping can result in other legal actions by those whom you executed background checks.  


The catch-22 is that background investigations must be thorough enough to protect your congregation and meet legal defensibility requirements; but without violating someone’s privacy rights.


The use of a professional outside company to conduct employment background screening for staff and volunteers will limit your liability while making the process less painful and time consuming.


Selecting a Background Screening Vendor for Your Church

The first choice you need to make is whether you want to try to do it on your own or to have it done for you by a 3rd. party.  In consideration of the ease, low cost factor (especially in consideration of devastating potential downside) and increased liability, this article is going to ignore the do-it-yourself approach.  One final word of warning, applications or vendors that only scan National or State databases will miss a large percentage of criminal records.  Here is a second final word of warning - "you git what you pay fer".  Having investigated some of the do-it-yourself options, it was found the the reality did not live up to the marketing hype.


What should a vendor of background screening be able to offer the church?  Here is a partial list of things that you should expect:

  • Ability to do more than quick database checks.  (Instant results are seldom needed by the church.  Instant checks merely skim the top of the information pool.)

  • Secure Web based access

  • Assistance with Fair Credit Reporting Act  (FCRA) compliance

  • Assistance with State Privacy Law compliance

  • The following reports

    • Social Security Trace

    • State and County Criminal History Checks

    • National Criminal Database search

    • Motor Vehicle Records (MVR) Check

    • Sex Offender Report

    • Initial "Quick Check" to verify SSN and name.

    • Workers Comp Claims

    • Form I-9 Compliance (optional)

    • Credit Reports (optional)

  • Retention of reports at vendors' location

  • Low cost to sign-up for services with pay as you use pricing

  • Drug testing (optional)

  • A personalized relationship wherein the vendor looks out for the best interest of the church, not just some access to data.

Back to Part 1 - Why Your Church Must Perform Background Screening

Back to Part 2 - The Two-edged Sword of Background Screening



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