More and more organizations are realizing the need for proper screening procedures in their volunteer and hiring programs, and typically, screening includes a background check as an important component. This post explores the basics of background checks, discussing why they’re important and offering some tips on how to obtain background check services for your organization.
The Importance of Background Checks
First, a word of caution. Background checks are important. But their importance is often over-emphasized by organizations. Employee and volunteer screening should be a holistic process, with background checks serving as just one piece. In addition, the rise of the “ban the box” movement has led to a shift in how organizations can even conduct this review. And problems like child sexual abuse rarely are caught by background checks, because the person doesn’t have a criminal history. Nevertheless, background checks still play an important role in many organizations’ employee and volunteer screening process. So, why complete a background check?
First, a background check can help screen out applicants who clearly are not qualified for a given position. If your organization works with vulnerable populations, like children, or if a position will have access to the organization’s finances, performing a background check may be necessary to screen out people who might seek to do harm. A person who has a felony conviction for stealing money from her last job probably should not be hired to work in accounts payable. Performing a background check can help prevent harm from occurring in the first place. While you may rarely catch people, “rare” is not “never.” Also, you may scare potential perpetrators away with intensive screening procedures.
Not doing a background check might be negligent. Failing to complete due diligence in hiring, including a background check where appropriate, may come back to haunt the organization if the unthinkable occurs. It could lead to your organization being the target of a negligent hiring lawsuit. Not adequately screening employees or volunteers—and specifically failing to do a background check in some cases—can land you in hot water.
Different Options for Background Checks: How to Choose?
Let’s agree that you need to establish and follow thorough screening procedures for applicants. The next question is: where do you get the services you need to implement such a policy?
We don’t promote any given background check provider, but give general tips and information to make sure that whatever provider you choose, you have an adequate system in place. With that in mind, this section offers some tips on how to find a provider or system that works for your organization.
One potential route is to look at accreditation sources. The National Association of Professional Background Screeners certifies companies, listed here, for a five-year period through its Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP). The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has a list of employment screening companies here.
Furthermore, this resource by Glenn Hammer points to two other sources for evaluating background check companies: whether the company is a member of ConcernedCRAs (CRA stands for consumer reporting agency), and whether it is accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Finally, ask around! Word-of-mouth reviews are powerful indicators of whether a company produces good quality in its products or services. One reliable source to ask might be your insurance company, through whom you may even be able to get a discount. For example, Brotherhood Mutual has provided Safe Hiring Solutions and Protect My Ministry as two potential options.
Evaluating Background Check Services
Finally, know what services you’re getting and not getting. Not all background check options perform the same searches. One story is told here of how a non-compliant registered sex offender would have gained access into a youth-serving organization but for the screener’s decision, after a basic check, to run a more comprehensive background check. Had the screener only used the basic check, the offender would have passed the background check portion of the application.
As you can see, background checks can be very important and should not be lightly discarded from a screening procedure for employees or volunteers. Concern both for the vulnerable and for your own organization means that you should strongly consider what role background checks ought to play in your organization.
Disclaimer: This post is not nearly exhaustive of all the factors and options that one should consider in ordering a background check, nor is the listing of certain companies intended to constitute an endorsement or approval of their products or services.