Needing Summer Employees, Interns, or Volunteers? Don’t Skip Background Checks!

By Stewart Gott

Ah, summertime. Bring on the hot, lazy days by the pool, the smell of a freshly cut lawn, and cool lemonade in a frosty glass.

Another summertime activity for many is volunteering, interning, or working during the summer months. Camps, pools, recreational companies, and many more businesses and non-profit organizations will be gearing up to bring on extra people either in paid or volunteer positions. Millions of people will be aiming to attain these summer positions, and some of them have unsavory intentions.

And, as with any other person who is hired, these people need to submit to a thorough background check.

While the majority of companies perform some sort of pre-employment screening during the regular hiring process, summer hires, interns, and volunteers often slip through with no screening whatsoever. There are a few reasons for this:

  • They won’t be there long. People who only work for a company for a few months are sometimes perceived as less of a potential threat to the safety of the workplace. Likewise, volunteers are donating their time with no pay, so surely they don’t have any ulterior motives or pose a danger, right? This is NOT the case. Summer employees and volunteers are just as likely to be dishonest and damaging as a full-time employee. Organizations that fail to properly recognize these risks are setting themselves up for sticky situations that can include costly lawsuits.
  • They were referred by another employee. A friend of a friend is often the way summer hires get their jobs. The opinion goes “Ben is awesome, so his friend must be honest, too.” Unfortunately, there may be secrets a friend is hiding that could be dangerous for your business or non-profit to take on. Believing that the friend is as honest as the current employee is a dangerous assumption for the employer to make.
  • Screening is perceived as too costly. Summer jobs are often lower paying jobs (interns and volunteers are not paid at all), and that, coupled with the fact the job is temporary, makes lots of employers view screening as an unnecessary expense. While background checks do cost money, it is smart business to realize the importance of checking out an employee’s background, especially if they are working with vulnerable populations, such as children or the elderly.
  • Screening is not required. Some organizations think if it’s not mandatory, they can skip it. Very few states require summer hires, interns, and volunteers such as camp counselors and lifeguards to be screened. 

To protect the safety of the company’s working environment, its clients, and its reputation, employers need to realize that a screening policy does not begin and end with full-time, permanent staff. The following procedures can be put into place to minimize the chance of a dishonest or dangerous person being hired or allowed to volunteer:

– Establish a policy for screening summer hires, interns, and volunteers.  HR professionals, hiring managers, and volunteer coordinators need to proactively decide what is required for seasonal hires, interns, and volunteers. Determine which background screening tools will be utilized for each position, and stay consistent with that plan. Explain to the applicants on the front end they will be the subject of a background screening report. To save your organization money, you may want to consider having the applicant pay for their own background check, especially if they are volunteering.

Become familiar with the laws. States may have laws that govern what is and is not allowed during a background check. Examples of these are “ban the box” which restricts asking about criminal history on the application, and regulations on using credit reports for hiring decisions. Employers should make certain to be up to date on and compliant with all pertinent laws and put a high priority on complying.

– Obtain the applicant’s authorization. Each applicant should authorize the background check, and needs to receive a disclosure that a background check is being conducted. This is required even with volunteers and interns. The authorization needs to be its own document, separate from the application.

– Utilize relevant screening tools. Design the background screening procedure to be in line with the job or volunteer position’s responsibilities. For example, a camp counselor would need to be checked against a sex offender’s registry, but would not necessarily need to have a credit report pulled. Avoid using screening information that is not fair, or your organization could open itself up to a discrimination lawsuit.

– Follow the FCRA requirements if you decided to deny employment or volunteer opportunity. A pre-adverse action letter must be sent to the applicant if it is decided not to hire based on whole or in part from the information found in a background check. The applicant needs proper time to dispute any information (usually five business days) then you need to send a follow up adverse action letter.

Organizations hiring for summer, looking for volunteers, or offering internships need to be aware of the risks these individuals potentially pose. A thoughtful, written out plan should be a top priority for employers who hire summer workers or recruit volunteers. Hiring the right people can greatly minimize risk to the workplace, protect the populations an organization serves, reduce the chance of litigation, and preserve the company’s reputation.

And that makes for a happy, stress-free summer.

Stewart Goff National Account Executive

Stewart Gott
National Account Executive