Background checks for volunteers?

By February 17, 2019 HeritageRail News

By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor

Should people who want to volunteer at a railway museum have to pass a background check? They now do at the Feather River Rail Society’s Western Pacific Railroad Museum.

According to the latest Train Sheet newsletter, this step is being taken at the recommendation of their insurance provider, and other railroad museums. In the newsletter General Superintendent Kerry Cochran says, “Each (museum) that I contacted told me basically the same thing, you better be doing it or you may end up with a problem on your hands.” I reached out to Cochran and he cited the California State Railroad Museum as an example.

UPDATE: Since posting this, we’ve learned that similar policies are in place at the Nashville Steam Preservation Society, Kentucky Steam Heritage Association and the Midland Railway.

The policy, quoted in its entirety below, was approved in May 2018 and applies to both new and existing volunteers. FRRD has contracted with Verified Volunteers as a third party to conduct the checks.

Here’s the policy, downloaded from the FRRS website.

 1. Purpose 

This Volunteer Background Screening Policy (“Policy”) sets forth the policy for performing background screens on volunteers. 

The Feather River Rail Society is concerned about the safety of its volunteers, constituents (staff, community, etc.) and the protection of its assets and reputation. To address these concerns volunteers of Feather River Rail Society must undergo background screens, which shall comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), in order to volunteer with Feather River Rail Society. 

The Feather River Rail Society has selected Verified Volunteers an independent third party to conduct background screens (“Background Screener”). Information on Verified Volunteers can be found at: 

Any questions or special considerations concerning this Policy should be directed to the volunteer manager or the general superintendent. 

2. Scope 

 This Policy applies to all prospective and current volunteers (with rescreens occurring every seven years (7) after initial check). 

3. Obtaining Consent and Cost for the Background Screen 

Upon receipt of a volunteer’s application to volunteer with Feather River Rail Society, he or she will be informed that selection is subject to meeting the requirements of background screens. The volunteer will then be provided a Disclosure and Authorization form, which requests information, including personal information, which the Background Screener requires to conduct the background screens. The personal data and information collected from the background screening will not be used for other purposes and shall be securely stored, and access available to only to those who have a need to know. After a period of seven years, Feather River Rail Society will initiate a new background check (rescreen) with all current Volunteers, and a new Disclosure and Authorization form will be required to be completed by the volunteer.

The cost of the background screen is $19.00 per person. Feather River Rail Society requests that volunteer make a contribution towards the payment of the background check. 

4. Checks to Be Conducted 

Background Screener shall provide Feather River Rail Society the following reports pursuant to its “Advanced Criminal Package”. Included in the package is monthly monitoring and alerts for twelve months. 

I. Social Security Trace (SS Trace) – A Social Security Trace uses the volunteer-provided social security number to find all reported address information for an individual over the last seven years. The trace also finds all names used by the volunteer – the given name as well as any alias/maiden names used. The information returned from the trace is then used to determine the name/court of record combinations that will be searched. Using a Social Security Trace as part of the search package maximizes chances of finding all pertinent criminal history for an individual. The Social Security Trace shall not be used directly to disqualify applicants from volunteering with Feather River Rail Society. It is solely a resource to gather information. 

II. County/State Residence Criminal Search (Current) – The address entered during the background check order process is used to determine the county and state of residence (U.S.) for the volunteer. The search should look for any reported criminal history for the volunteer in that county or state at the primary source of information (the state or county courthouse). 

III. County/State Search(es) – 7 Years of Address History – All counties/states in which the volunteer has lived in the last 7 years should be identified. Those counties/states should be searched at the primary source of information (the state or county courthouse) using the name in question and other personally identifiable information. 

IV. Nationwide Criminal History Search with Validation – A Nationwide Criminal History search uses the full name and date of birth provided by the volunteer during the order process to search over 900 criminal information data sources from all 50 states. The quality and breadth of data varies by state, and is limited for over 2/3 of the nation’s states (defined by limited data sources or stale information updated infrequently). 

V. National 50 State Sex Offender Registry Search (Dru Sjodin/NSOPW) The National 50 State Sex Offender Registry Search / National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) is a comprehensive 50-state sex offender search 

VI. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) Watch List Search – Also known as the Government Watch List Search, the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) search lists those individuals identified as threatening to or ineligible to conduct business with the U.S. Federal Government. It includes Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) – those individuals and companies associated with specific countries the U.S. considers dangerous or does not want to have dealings with, and those known to be affiliated with terrorism or drug trafficking. It also includes Foreign Sanctions Evaders (FSEs) – individuals who have or have tried to violate U.S. sanctions on various countries. This list includes Iran, Syria, Cuba, Ukraine, and Russia. 

5. Disqualification Criteria 

The volunteer manager will review the report provided by the Background Screener and determine if any negative information has a direct connection with an applicant’s ability to fulfill the volunteer’s duties with competence and integrity, or that might impact safety. 

Background check findings shall be reviewed in a fair, impartial and confidential manner. Because the Feather River Rail Society priority is the safety of the members, staff, volunteers and guests, certain convictions for certain crimes serve to automatically disqualify applicants for volunteer service at the Feather River Rail Society. For example any position that involves working with children will automatically disqualify a volunteer who is a convicted sex offender. A person will be ineligible for volunteer service if the person: 

Refuses to consent to a background screen. 

Makes a false statement in connection with a background screen. 

Matters that might raise a concern include, but are not limited to, the following: 

Criminal History Search – A criminal conviction will not automatically prohibit an individual from volunteering at Feather River Rail Society, but will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 

Convictions for the following categories of crimes will be reviewed against the role the volunteer is volunteering for and, if relevant, may be considered in making decisions: 

I. Any recent felony conviction – these serious crimes are usually defined by statutory guidelines, and in general, are punishable by more than 1-year incarceration. 

II. Theft – including burglary, embezzlement, forgery, fraud. 

III. Violent crimes – including murder, robbery, assault, battery. 

IV. Drug-related crimes – including use, sale, possession, distribution, or manufacture of illegal drugs. 

V. Sex offenses – including rape and sexual assault.

VI. Serious motor vehicle offenses – includes driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Arrests that are not pending and did not result in conviction shall not be considered. Arrests pending disposition that are related to the role the volunteer is volunteering for may be considered. 

Prior to making a decision regarding eligibility, the Feather River Rail Society will validate, using approved identification (e.g. Driver’s license), that the background check was run using the same information. 

If Feather River Rail Society uses the information reported from the background screens to deny volunteer’s request to volunteer it shall provide the volunteer with notification before a final decision is made. Volunteer shall be given 5 days to appeal or dispute the notice. If the volunteer submits a reasonable appeal or dispute, then he or she may go forward with volunteer onboarding (e.g. a case of mistaken identity). However, if the volunteer’s explanation is determined to be insufficient, then Feather River Rail Society shall deny the volunteer’s request to volunteer. 

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