Screening Volunteers on Need-to-Know Basis

September 27th, 2014 by Dodie

Volunteers are the key to success of many organizations. Effective volunteer screening reduces risk to your organization and the people it serves. If your organization is setting up or reviewing an existing screening policy, you may be wondering if the information you obtain is accurate, too invasive, or compliant with privacy laws.

Not because an information is readily available, it is a necessary part of screening. For example, you would check the driving record of a volunteer who transports senior citizens to medical appointments and get a credit report for a volunteer who manages the organization’s funds. But you could drop either one as a screening tool for someone doing yard work.

Collect the minimum data needed to accomplish the screening. This is efficient and adheres to the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs), the framework at the core of the Privacy Act of 1974 that is mirrored in many state laws and corporate privacy policies.

Notice and Consent

Notice and consent are basic tenets of protecting privacy and ensuring data quality. Be specific about data you will collect and its purpose. Tell the volunteer precisely what will be collected, how it will be collected, as well as who will do the screening. Tell him/her the sources you will use for the screening, the period of time you will be looking into, how often future screenings will be conducted, consequences of refusing to authorize screening, and rights the volunteer may have.

Make sure that the volunteer can review information and will have a means to appeal or dispute inaccurate information. Assure that information collected from the screening itself will not be used for other purposes and that personal information will be securely stored with access available to only those who have a need to know.

Laws and Regulations

Like tenant screening and employment background checks, volunteer screening is regulated.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides rights and responsibilities. For example, the FCRA requires organizations to provide written notification of the background check to the volunteer being screened, and the volunteer must provide written permission for this screening to take place. The FCRA also requires that you take certain steps before and after you take an adverse action based on results of a background check. Additional details are available on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) site.

The FCRA does not preempt more stringent state laws and regulations governing background checks.

Tools and Screening Policy

Available screening tools include: personal and/or employment references, criminal background investigation, fingerprinting, driving records checks, substance abuse tests, physical examinations.

Common tools include accessing the FBI criminal records database as well as state and local criminal records repositories.

Searches using personally identifiable information (PII) employing name, date of birth, and other personal identifiers are the most common methods used in the United States and are as accurate as fingerprint-based searches.

Using a background check company is common, especially if the organization is small, busy, or without the expertise to conduct investigation in-house. They can also provide valuable expertise to help you develop screening policies. Screening is only effective if you also put in place a policy regarding the offenses that will disqualify a volunteer from serving with your organization.

Use consistent procedures in your screening policy. You may choose to screen every volunteer before they start their duties. Or you may choose a tiered risk-based approach.

That said, just make sure to follow the same procedures for all volunteers in the same position with your organization. This reduces risk and it can build trust within the organization.

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