Organizations need to treat volunteering screening the same as employment screening.  In this article we will discuss some of the considerations of using background screening for volunteers – specifically making you aware that the same obligations that apply to screening for employment purposes also apply to volunteer screening.  In parts 1 and 2 a footnote was included that read, “According to the Federal Trade Commission, one of the organizations responsible for enforcing the FCRA – Background screening conducted on volunteers is subject to the same rules as employment screening.”

The justification for this statement is not found directly within the language of the FCRA, but rather in a document titled, “40 Years of Experience with the Fair Credit Reporting Act – An FTC Staff Report with Summary of Interpretations” which came out in July of 2011.  This report is a great tool that provides a section by section analysis and interpretation of the statutory language.  It also includes information that has been provided via FTC Opinion letters over the history of the FCRA.

The document addresses the issue of volunteer screening with the following:

“Section 603(h) defines “employment purposes” to mean “a report used for the purpose of evaluating a consumer for employment, promotion, reassignment or retention as an employee.” 


Because the term “employment purposes” is interpreted liberally to effectuate the broad remedial purpose of the FCRA, it may apply to situations where an entity uses individuals who are not technically employees to perform duties. Thus, it includes a trucking company that obtains consumer reports on individual drivers who own and operate their own equipment; a title insurance company that obtains consumer reports on individuals with whom it frequently enters into contracts to sell its insurance, examine title, and close real property transactions; or a nonprofit organization staffed in whole or in part by volunteers.

The last line makes it clear that when interpreting the FCRA the term “employment purposes” includes volunteers.  What is the impact of that interpretation?  It means that your obligations for volunteer screening are the same as those for employment screening – specifically you must have proper authorization and disclosure forms and you must follow the two-part adverse action notification process any time you refuse to allow someone to volunteer altogether or even place restrictions on the types of volunteer opportunities available to any individual.

We cover the requirements of compliant disclosure and authorization forms in greater detail in Part 1 of this series.  You can find a detailed breakdown of the two-part adverse action notification process in Part 2 of this series.  Make sure that your policies and processes for volunteer screening get the same compliance analysis as your employment screening program does.  The same statutory damages apply if your volunteer screening program is not compliant.  Between $100 and $1000 per violation.  For organizations that enjoy a large volunteer base that blessing can quickly become a curse.