Posted by & filed under Risk Control.

Pre-employment screening refers to the process of investigating and verifying the background of potential employees and volunteers. This may include criminal background checks, employment and educational history as well as references for employment. Employers look to confirm that the information provided by the applicant/volunteer is truthful and accurate as well as discover any potential criminal history, employment or educational issues that may not have been disclosed.

Many Human Services Organizations may consider background and reference checks as burdensome. They worry that these checks may discourage potential employees or volunteers. On the contrary, they should provide potential applicants and volunteers with confidence that the position will allow them to work alongside people who have been thoroughly vetted.

The main reason for these reference checks is to maximize the security of the clients served by the organization. Many Human Services Organizations are providing services to sensitive populations that can include children, the elderly, or other vulnerable communities of people. Poorly designed or improperly followed screening policies can potentially expose these clients to criminals or abuse offenders.

Additionally, failure to screen employees or volunteers has the potential to jeopardize the organization’s reputation. If an offender slips through the screening process, and a client is injured or abused, the fallout can have a devastating effect on the organization. This reputational damage could influence future donations, jeopardize existing contracts for service and open the organization up to lawsuits.

While federal, state and local laws may govern parts of the process, a well-designed program should include a criminal background check, prior employment history verification, reference checks and confirmation of educational credentials. The Fair Credit Reporting Act has specific guidelines for information that must be shared with applicants if employment is denied based on information developed.


A well-defined policy should include:

Criminal Background Checks – Many times these can be secured from various government agencies or through third-party vendors. A Federal check is recommended since State background checks may not disclose issues the applicant/volunteer may have had in a state that they previously resided in.

Employment Verification – Typically, many employers will only confirm dates of employment, final salary and position title. Asking the question ‘Would you rehire’ may lead to a stock answer or it may shed light on potential issues.

Reference Checks – Generally speaking, a process of checking both personal and business references is recommended. At least three (3) checks should be conducted. It is important to note that if your policy is to check three (3), then you MUST check three (3) as we will note below.

Educational verification – Confirmation of education shows that the applicant/volunteer has the level of education necessary for specific roles within the organization.

MVR Checks – If staff or volunteers drive vehicles for an organization, or they drive their privately-owned vehicle on company business, the organization should run a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR). This report will show if the individual has a valid license, the type of vehicle they are licensed to drive, and whether or not they have received tickets, suspensions, at-fault accidents or other actions for driving infractions. People that have a history of speeding or at-fault accidents may pose an increased risk to the organization. Following a thoroughly documented screening process will help protect the organization from potential negligent hiring allegations should a post-employment incident occur.


A recent example involves a nonprofit organization whose written procedures were to obtain three (3) references from an applicant. They secured the references, and received two (2) unremarkable reports. The third reference never responded to their request.

An incident occurred in which the newly hired employee was alleged to have assaulted a client. Litigation was brought against the organization alleging they failed to follow their own procedures. Had they followed their procedures, it was argued, they may have uncovered information that would have led to not hiring the employee, and therefore the assault would have been avoided. This case is currently in the courts, but the failure of the organization to follow through may play a significant role in the outcome.