There are many hurdles toward landing a job; passing a background check shouldn’t be one of them.

Background checks are often the final litmus test before receiving a job offer. They are – rightly so – an increasingly common requirement in ministries hiring procedures and vetting policies for volunteers. A thorough background investigation, such as one conducted by a nationally-accredited Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) like Protect My Ministry, will deliver information on a person’s criminal record, credit history, drug test record, education verification, and reference checks.

Many industries whose employees work with children or other vulnerable populations also require candidate’s pass an abuse safety training course, in addition to a background check. More and more ministries are incorporating mandatory child safety training for all of their childcare workers and volunteers who participate in Vacation Bible School and after school programs. 

There is No Such Thing as Perfect

It’s unlawful to run a background check on a candidate without his/her consent. It’s also totally normal to have some reservations about agreeing to a background investigation. With so many misconceptions about background checks, it’s hard to know what information is being gathered about a job candidate, how it’s being assessed, and why it can affect candidates’ employability.

Ministries need to be aware that even the best applicant on paper may not seem so squeaky clean after a background check. It’s important that your business has a standardized policy when it comes to identifying ‘red flags’ that will disqualify someone from employment or volunteerism. Even ‘red flags’ such as behavior or character traits need to be thoughtfully weighed as they could expose your church to increased risk.

Common Red Flags

The professionals at Protect My Ministry have identified several common red flags that eliminate candidates from consideration. Here’s what they are and what they could indicate for your church or religious organization:

  • A violent criminal record. If you operate a church where your employees and/or volunteers interact with children in any way, this is a major red flag. Any candidate with convictions for crimes against a person, especially a sex crime, should NEVER be allowed to work with or near children. Child and youth ministries should also be wary of individuals with convictions for child abuse or who have had a court order to remove children from their home issued against them. Drug-related convictions also warrant additional vetting; it may be in your organization’s best interest to find an applicant with substance abuse convictions a job that does not come in contact with any children. Similar precautions should be taken for jobs that include contact with vulnerable populations like the elderly or people with disabilities or special needs.
  • Fraud or theft convictions. Applicants with financial crimes like bankruptcies, thefts, and identity theft on their records should not be considered for any position that handles church money or exposes them to other members’ personal financial information. Identity theft is big business. A report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BSJ) shows that an estimated 17.6 million people in the U.S. were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014. That breaks down to about 7 percent of us! Find another job opportunity or volunteer position for this person.
  • A criminal conviction that occurred more than 10 years ago. These results don’t often turn up in a typical court records check, but they may be uncovered through interviews or reference checks. It’s important to consider how much time has passed since the crime(s) occurred, current character references, steady employment, and whether or not the person has permanent housing. A well-researched hiring and screening policy that establishes clear guidelines on how all candidates should be treated during the applicant phase is extremely helpful and will help keep your ministry out of legal trouble should someone attempt to sue you for discrimination.
  • Lying on a resume. It’s not uncommon for people to job hop these days. In fact, millennials do it fairly regularly. Job hopping or gaps in employment, though, may indicate that a candidate is unreliable or always looking for the “next big thing.” You will certainly want to weigh the cost of turnover before employing someone like this, and the disruption this could cause to your church’s overall mission. Additionally, an employment gap on a person’s resume may mean they were fired and don’t want you to know. This is not necessarily a bad thing – people get fired for all sorts of reasons – but you definitely want to know up front why the applicant was terminated from his/her previous job. Finally, lying about your education or degrees or certifications should not be tolerated at all.
  • Poor credit history. How a person handles his/her finances is a direct reflection of how responsible she/he is. This may not be of utmost concern for most of the jobs within your business, but if you’re considering an applicant for any sort of church leadership or financial or security position, it’s something you want cleared up before green-lighting an offer.

Best Practices

Implementing background checks is one thing, knowing what to do with the results is another.

If your ministry doesn’t already have an established policy that defines what ‘red flags’ will disqualify an applicant from consideration, then it’s in your best interest to treat everyone the same. That means if a candidate for employment or volunteerism can’t pass a background check, they shouldn’t get the job.

Although strict, this approach makes the most sense. It protects your current employees and clients and helps keep your campus safe.

If you are considering updating your hiring and screening policy, and are looking for ways to incorporate more people with criminal pasts into your workforce, our sister site, Active Screening,  has some great advice:

Four Surefire Ways for Your Small Business to Prevent a Discriminatory Hiring Lawsuit

How to Protect Yourself From an EEOC Lawsuit

Screening and the Recruiting Process: Who is Responsible?

If you have a criminal record and are curious about how that might affect your job prospects, read these Active Screening posts:

Will Your Criminal Record Keep You Unemployed?

The Criminal Record Effect: Do Pending Charges Show Up on a Background Check?

I Have a Criminal Record. Does That Mean I Won’t Pass a Background Check?

Still have questions? We have answers. Call Protect My Ministry at 1.800.319.5581. Or sign up for our FREE instructional videos here.

*A version of this story first appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Church Executive magazine.