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Do You Need to Get a Background Check for All Volunteers?

Mary Quirk and Karmit Bulman

Deciding which volunteer positions need a background check is not always clear cut. The decision requires both knowing what laws apply to your volunteer roles and deciding beyond the laws, what is it prudent to do for risk management.

To understand what laws apply to your volunteers it is good to start with asking advice from your organization’s legal counsel. There are a number of Minnesota laws that cover background checks and vulnerable populations. A few laws specifically refer to volunteers, other laws are often interpreted to include volunteers even though they are not specifically named in the law.

The Minnesota House Research Department has a guide which can be used as the reference (note: see separate document Criminal Background Checks: An Overview of Minnesota Law, authored by the Research Department of the Minnesota House of Representatives and dated February 2014).
• Page 8 has the reference to volunteers in schools
• Page 24 has the reference for volunteers for home care providers
• Throughout are laws that have been interpreted as applying to volunteers

The other area where there can be a legal requirement for volunteer background checks is through funder contracts. Some funders require that certain volunteers have background checks.

Here is a summary of what MAVA has gathered over the years regarding background check requirement for volunteers:

• The Departments of Human Services, Mental Health and Corrections are known for requiring volunteer background checks in facilities they license under certain conditions, such as if the volunteer will have direct contact with people served by the program and if the volunteer is alone at times with the client. Many nonprofits such as hospitals and nursing homes would fall under this category.

• Some of the Department of Human Services Enrolled Provider services and the 245D license services, have legal requirements for volunteers to have background checks. This applies to nonprofits that are enrolled to provide these services.

• Many schools say they are legally required to have volunteers with direct contract with students to have background checks.

• For other nonprofits that work with vulnerable populations, it is recommended that you check funder contracts and check with legal counsel to see if you are required to do background checks.

All volunteer positions do not require background checks. Some positions do require it and for other volunteer positions, it is simply good risk management to do background checks. Keep in mind, however, that background checks are only one part of the risk management work your organization must do. Thorough volunteer interviews, reference checks, policies, position descriptions and volunteer training are all key to organizational risk management.