As a former volunteer manager, I can empathize that one of the most difficult parts of the job is telling someone who wants to help that they can’t.  We spend our time convincing folks to share their time and talents for our cause, and it’s difficult to turn help away! But when you frame these decisions in terms of the strong safety net you are providing for the people your organization serves, things get a little clearer!

In my former role, the combination of having a detailed and succinct policy for what was acceptable and unacceptable in a potential volunteer’s criminal background, together with a solid knowledge of our organization’s responsibilities under the law, helped increase my confidence and ensure this process went smoothly.

Check out this Adverse Action Checklist for do’s – and what not to do.

Your Volunteer Background Check Policy

It is up to your organization to develop a consistent policy for how to address the criminal history of a potential volunteer. Consider the following when crafting your background check policy:

  • The severity of crimes reported to you will range from traffic offenses* to misdemeanors to felonies. How will you address these different kinds of crime? How will you handle criminal activity that involves harm to others, including minors? What about finance-related infractions?
  • You will see criminal activity that has occurred in the last 7 years, and older offenses will be reported depending on state law. What span of time will your organization consider? A best practice is to start with a 7 year timespan, and then consider whether offenses that occurred prior to that will be considered in your decision.
  • Your policy must be applied consistently across all volunteers.
  • Volunteer background screening is never a “one and done” type of activity. How often must background checks be repeated? A best practice is to require volunteers to repeat their screening every year. Verified Volunteers provides monthly updates to volunteer background checks for all volunteers for one year so that clients with an annual renewal policy always have a full picture of their volunteers.

        *if your package includes Motor Vehicle Record searches.

Check out our Resources page for a Sample Volunteer Background Check Policy.

Understanding the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

In addition to a clear policy on volunteer eligibility, a good understanding of rights and responsibilities under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) will help make sure you’re in compliance when you make difficult decisions. Why “credit” you ask? Great question – this can be very confusing for volunteer managers and volunteers alike. It’s simple really – background check data, including records of criminal activity, is considered consumer data. And the rules for how consumer data can be accessed, shared and used in employment and other decisions affecting consumers are laid out in the FCRA. For your volunteer management processes, here’s what you need to know.

Consent and Disclosure

You are required to disclose, using very specific language, the rights your volunteers have to their consumer data and have them consent to you accessing that data.  The specific language may vary depending on the state where the volunteer lives – there are also state laws that interact with the FCRA. A good screening vendor can help organizations keep on top of these requirements and provide easy e-signature technology.

Adverse Action

Here’s where Adverse Action comes into play. If you intend to disallow a volunteer from filling a position based on data returned to you in the background check report, you must follow a consistent Adverse Action process.

  1. Contact the volunteer to notify them that the contents of their background check are not in compliance with your background check policy – this is called “Pre-Adverse Action.” You must provide them access to their detailed background check report, and provide a reasonable time for the volunteer to dispute. Five business days is a good best practice for a “reasonable amount of time.” It is important to note that this only applies to disputes of the content of the report. If a volunteers disagrees with the details of your policy, that is strictly an organizational decision.
  2. If the volunteer disagrees with the content of their background check report, and the organization is using a third party vendor to help manage the Adverse Action, the volunteer may take action and contact that vendor to initiate their dispute. The vendor will then contact the jurisdiction (County or State Court, or Department of Motor Vehicles) that reported the criminal activity to verify the data. If the jurisdictional officials determine the data they provided was false, the report will be amended.
  3. If the volunteer does not dispute the contents of their report within a reasonable time, you are then required to send the volunteer a “Post Adverse Action” letter indicating that the matter is closed and they are ineligible for volunteering.

The Adverse Action process can be confusing. We can help: 

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