Working with children, as most church organizations do, comes with its own unique set of laws and regulations.

While there are laws in place that dictate what offenses automatically disqualify [AF1] someone to work with children, there is a wide swath of “gray area” offenses to be found during a background check.

What to Do When You’re Not Sure About the Results of Background Screening

Obviously, mild offenses or unsavory connections or activities found in a background check could be problematic for some organizations.

The event brought up by the background screen may not technically prevent an employee or volunteer from working with children, but that doesn’t mean the organization will be comfortable including someone whose values don’t line up with their own.

So, what does a church do with these gray areas? How do they decide what is okay and what isn’t?

Automatic Disqualifications

First, let’s start with the crimes that automatically prohibit someone from working with children.

There are certain offenses you may find in a background check that immediately takes a potential volunteer or employee out of the running if they’ll be working with (or even be around) children.

These include, but are not necessarily limited to, criminal homicide, aggravated assault, stalking, kidnapping, all forms of sexual assault and indecent exposure, endangering a child, prostitution, crimes involving sexual material and performances, and corruption of minors. If something were to come back on an individual’s background screen that included one of these offenses, that person is not legally allowed to volunteer or work in a capacity that involves minors.

For a more in-depth look at the offenses that automatically disqualify someone from working with children, check out the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

The Concept of Risk Tolerance

The ultimate decision on gray area infractions is going to fall to the church or organization. There are very few instances where an organization’s risk tolerance can be zero. When working with people, there will always be a certain amount of risk associated.

When an organization defines their risk tolerance, they are accepting a certain amount of error or issues they’ll accept with each applicant based on their processes. An organization can have a lower risk tolerance with a more stringent process and a shorter list of “acceptable” offenses. Alternatively, the organization may have a higher risk tolerance with a more laid-back process and an accepting attitude toward previous offenses.

The decision must be made: Does the risk of bringing in someone with a negative factor on their background check out weigh worth what they add to the organization? What level of potential scandal or gossip is too much? If the background screening reveals a minor offense, and you bring the volunteer on board, the church must be comfortable with the responsibility they’re taking on. If a similar offense occurs again, how much damage would it do to the organization? “Green factors” can be used to evaluate an applicant’s history.

Green Factors

The term “green factors” refers to three common assessments used to decide whether the offenses in an applicant’s background constitute a potential threat to the organization.

The three green factors are:

  1. Consider the nature of the job being applied for. If it involves children, you may be more cautious. If it involves working alone, that may change how you view certain offenses.

  2. The seriousness of the offense. If you find a non-violent misdemeanor or minor crime of passion, is it worth the trouble? Does it even relate to their current job?

  3. How long it’s been since the offense. Was the offense in question a youthful indiscretion? Did they steal gum, once, from a liquor store? Is the current applicant even the same person as the one who committed the crime? How likely are they to do it again?

Each individual person and the offense in question need to be assessed, but remember to stay consistent with your decision. Apply some standards to let everyone know what is and isn’t acceptable in the hiring process.

The Complicated Process of Background Screening

While it would be nice to just run a background check and have a black-and-white decision in front of you, there’s always going to be some element of a judgment call.

If you’re looking for more information on background screening for faith-based organizations, check out our previous post on the topic.

Visit ProVerify™ powered by Application Verification to perform the background screening you need, and to help you decide what “gray areas” are safe for your company.



Equal Opportunity Commission, Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions, Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Retrieved from:

Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, n.d., “What Applicants Should Know About Background Checks,” retrieved from:

Barry A. Hartstein, Littler Mendelson, P.C., (2013), “Use of Criminal History Record in the Hiring Process,” retrieved from American Bar Association:

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