This article is an update of one previously published in CampLine, Winter Issue 2002.
Many camps have been challenged by the time, effort, and frustration of doing criminal background checks of employees who will be supervising children. The public seems to expect this step, the ACA standards require it for those with direct supervision or access to children, and many youth organizations and schools serving children require it.
Camps are increasingly turning to commercial background-checking services to assist in this detail-intensive task. While this eases the administration of the process by the camp, it does come with requirements specified by federal law. Camps must be implementing these additional requirements to be in compliance with the law.
Commercial services will obtain background checks for you for a fee. Fees represent searches on a single name (not including an additional maiden name) in a single jurisdiction. Fees and services vary — some services will check state or local records, while others will check federal records.
All record searches done by commercial companies are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This has implications for the camp in informing applicants according to guidelines discussed below.
Fair CreditReporting Act
The FCRA was passed in 1970 in response to concerns about the accuracy of information maintained in various data banks. It was amended in 1996 and those amendments took effect in 1997. The Federal Trade Commission has stated that you must comply with the FCRA requirements when you hire a commercial company to provide background checks, even if those checks do not include a credit history.
The law governs many kinds of information, including any information about an individual’s credit, character, reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living — if the information is collected for the purpose of determining a person’s eligibility for credit or employment. Companies providing background-screening information are subject to the requirements.
If using commercial companies, there are steps you must follow with applicants.
Steps to Follow
- Inform the Applicant. Prior to ordering background reports, you must tell the applicant you are ordering the reports and obtain permission to do so. This disclosure and signature request must be clear and conspicuous. The consent must be a separate release when you are using a commercial firm. It cannot be combined with other releases or statements to the applicant. You may wish to obtain this as part of your application or at a time when you are doing initial screening. When using a third-party commercial firm, you must also provide a Disclosure of an Investigative Report. This must be clear and conspicuous and on a separate piece of paper. It is also advisable to give the applicant a copy of A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This outlines their rights. The FCRA requires that any time an applicant receives information pertaining to a report about himself or herself, it must be accompanied by a copy of this information.
- Order Background Reports. The FCRA imposes severe penalties for obtaining reports without having a permissible purpose under the law. You should establish strict policies in your organization for those who may obtain such reports and the purposes for which those reports will be used. You may wish to have your applicant sign a statement indicating their understanding of the law in this regard.
- When negative information is received. If the reports you receive contain information that causes you NOT to hire an individual, the FCRA requires that you mail a copy of the report to the applicant together with another copy of the Summary ofYour Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Include a letter explaining that the report contains information, which — if accurate — may cause you not to extend an offer of employment. Give the applicant at least five days in which to notify you if the information in the report is not correct.
- Notifying the Applicant of a Non-Hire Decision. If you decide not to hire the applicant based in whole or in part on any information you received from the background report, you must notify the applicant of this decision. The law refers to a denial of the employment as an “adverse action.” This adverse action notice can be given orally, in writing, or by electronic means. It must include:
- Notification that you will not be offering employment because of information contained in the report.
- The name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting agency that provided the report.
- A statement that the consumer reporting agency did not make this decision and thus cannot tell the applicant the reason for the decision.
- A notice that the applicant has the right to obtain another free copy of the report within sixty days.
- A notice that the applicant has the right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of the report with the reporting agency.
- A copy of A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
There is no requirement in the law as to how soon after you make the decision you must notify the applicant. This notification can be part of your normal rejection process.
These reporting requirements to the applicant allow the applicant to correct information that may be incorrect in the file. There is no requirement that the employer must reverse the employment decision if the report information is incorrect.
When using a commercial service:
- You must notify the applicant of your intent to check background (such as criminal background).
- You must obtain permission to do so.
- You must notify him/her if information in the report will likely cause you to take an adverse action on his/her application and give him/her at least five days to respond.
- You must provide him/her with a copy of the report and the name of the organization that obtained the report.
- You must notify him/her of his/her rights at each step.
It is because of these strict requirements that some have determined to do checking on their own. However, the difficulty of doing those checks in multiple municipalities and jurisdictions is what drives others to use commercial services to obtain the information.
Choose the means that is best for you, but do so being aware of the requirements. Check out Products and Services  for camps and then on Staff Hiring to find a list of companies relating to ACA who provide such services.
Originally published in the 2003 Winter issue of The CampLine.