Q: What should our church do when an employee or volunteer background check turns up a criminal record?
A: Discovery of a criminal record is the beginning of an inquiry, not the end. Conducting interviews and reference checks to ensure that the candidate is otherwise qualified for the position will provide additional information needed in making an employment or involvement decision.
A good general rule is to use the same criteria followed by the local public school system. If the public school system would be prohibited from employing the candidate, then your ministry would do well to avoid employing or involving the candidate. You can find out what criteria are used by contacting your local public school system directly, or by enlisting the help of an attorney.
In addition to providing you with state screening requirements, an attorney can also review the available information about the candidate’s criminal record and give you a written opinion on whether the individual would be permitted to work in a public school in your state. Having this written opinion in your file will help you defend against an employment discrimination suit by the candidate or a third-party suit against the church alleging negligent hiring or selection.
Even if the candidate would qualify to work in a public school, it may not be appropriate to involve them in your ministry. The principal responsibility of any ministry is to protect and promote the physical, emotional and spiritual health of ministry participants. If employing or involving a particular candidate would be contrary to this moral duty, then the ministry should not accept the candidate for the position.
A good general rule is to use the same criteria followed by the local public school system. If the public school system would be prohibited from employing the candidate, then your ministry would do well to avoid employing or involving the candidate.
In making a final determination, here are some things to consider:
Is the candidate the same person as the offender from the background check? Depending on how your background check is performed, you may need to verify that identities match.
What was the specific act involved in the offense?
How serious was the alleged act? Did the conviction result from a plea deal? Does the charge in the conviction accurately reflect the act that caused the original charge to be filed?
Do either the alleged act or the conviction indicate a larger problem? (For example, petty theft offenses often indicate underlying drug-related activities.)
When did the act occur?
Was it an isolated incident or a pattern?
Who was the victim (e.g., child, youth, vulnerable adult, other adult) and how were they affected?
Was there a conviction or an acquittal? Was the conviction a “no-contest” plea or an admission of guilt?
How does the offense relate to the position being filled?
What is the church attorney’s opinion?
In the end, a hiring decision should be based on whether or not the criminal record indicates a potential threat to ministry participants.
Balancing your ministry’s responsibility to protect participants, on the one hand, against the redemptive mission and message of Christianity, on the other hand, is often a difficult task. This burden may be made lighter by the use of careful analysis and professional counsel.
*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.
The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
Request A Quote
Thank you for your interest in Brotherhood Mutual. We appreciate the opportunity to provide your church or other ministry with an insurance quote and will reply to your request as soon as possible.