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The Evolution of Background Checks

A century ago, background checks didn’t even exist. Today, the importance of, and necessity for, background checks can’t be overstated. Screening is simply the best defense you have against inviting a predator or otherwise suspect person into your fold as an employee, volunteer or church representative.

How and why did background checks develop as a tool for employers? Let’s take a history lesson together.

When Did It All Begin?

A hundred years ago, no one even considered the history of job candidates, much less a candidate’s inclination toward violence. That all began to change with closer examination of the fellow servant rule that originally protected an employer from liability when an employee got hurt on the job, either from negligence or on purpose by another employee. Lawmakers later amended the rule to ensure that employers recognized they had an obligation to provide a safe workplace; This included the hiring of safe workers. 

However, negligent hiring claims didn’t really gain steam until the late 1970s. You see, by that time, pre-employment credit checks had become common thanks to the Consumer Credit Protection Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These bills
helped employers judge candidates’ responsibility and honesty, uncover any financial instability and protect both employers and employees when wage garnishment was court ordered. Why was all of this important? One word: financial fraud. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reports that the typical organization today loses an estimated
5% of its annual revenues to occupational fraud.

With the arrival of consistent credit checks, and a greater understanding of employer liability, the background ‘check’ or ‘investigation’ became the norm, if not needed, practice in making informed hiring and retention decisions. Courts decided “an employer may be found liable if it is shown to have breached its duty of care in selecting and retaining only competent and safe employees” (Fleming v. Bronfin, 80 A.2d 915 (Mun.Ct.App. D.C. 1951)). Criminal background investigations were the next logical step.

What is a Background Check?

According to the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), “A background ‘investigation’ or ‘check’ is, in very broad terms, an inquiry into an individual’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, and/or mode of living. It may be as simple as a criminal history search or, for persons in more sensitive, high-level positions, or persons dealing with vulnerable populations, it may involve not only a check of criminal records, but also a thorough investigation of civil records, asset and bankruptcy records, credit reports, and driving records.”

Eventually, background checks extended to firearms (at least in the United States). The Brady Law was signed into law in 1993 and mandates federal background checks on gun buyers. It stems from an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan that left his press secretary, Jim Brady, partially paralyzed for life. The attempt by John Hinckley Jr. happened after Hinckley falsified his application to buy a gun.

What Does a Modern Background Check Include?

Background checks today can investigate criminal reports, credit histories, substance abuses, credential checks, education verifications, driving records, among many other things. Usually, churches have a unique list of criteria for background checks for new employees and volunteers. In other words, your ministry might require something more in-depth than another church down the street. Or vice versa.

As a whole, the screening industry is much more versatile in the types of checks it can perform on candidates. Protect My Ministry is incredibly in tune to the differing needs of ministries and has developed a customizable solution that is easily integrated with church management software programs. Read more about Ministry Mobilizer here.

The two most common types of background checks are those performed by a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) or a fingerprint check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A background check performed by a CRA that is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (like us!) will provide you the most comprehensive portfolio on your employees and volunteers.

What Does the Future of Screening Look Like?

The evolution of modern screening is exciting! There are two main arenas that industry insiders are closely watching – Ban The Box and Child and Abuse Safety Training. Both of these may have huge impacts on ministries.

Child and abuse safety training, in particular, will be critical to watch because it could change requirements and protocols for Vacation Bible Schools, camps, after school programs, and daycares/schools on church campuses.

We’ll definitely keep you up to date on screening industry trends and developments here on the Protect My Ministry blog, but if you have questions, comments or concerns for us, there are three ways you can get in touch with us:

  • Comment below
  • Email
  • Ring us (800) 319-5581

We look forward to hearing from you!