Skeletons in the Closet? Make Them Dance for You – Strategies for Dealing with Background Checks

“If you have skeletons in the closet……you may as well make them dance.”
— George Bernard Shaw as quoted by Rachael Manija Brown in “All the Fishes Come Home to Roost”

There is a lot of noise about background checks for Radio Amateurs who volunteer to help in time of disaster.

Foremost in the crosshairs has been the Red Cross, who has demanded ARES Volunteers sign a comprehensive waiver & authorization for the Red Cross to conduct background checks. Interestingly the Red Cross has said it doesn’t need the full range of authorizations as it only reserves the right to conduct in-depth checks, such as credit checks. The Red Cross statement to the ARRL can be found here: Red Cross-Laura Howe – Statement to the ARRL in pdf form.

Repeatedly the Red Cross has said they really don’t need, nor intend to use, the wide authorization & releases they are asking ARES volunteers to sign before they can be assigned to serve the Red Cross.

The ARRL official response is at: ARRL Statement on Red Cross Background Checks but can be summed up in:

The Red Cross has stated that they will not use credit reports. Requiring that volunteers authorize
the procurement of a credit report is inconsistent with this assurance.

Having spent several years on the investigating side of background checks, some observations are:

  • Any document you sign could be considered a form of contract.
  • You have the right to modify your end of contract. Of course the other side has the right to refuse the contract after modification, but you can negotiate.
  • Consider Limiting Authority to what is needed – strike out any clauses or parts you object to.
  • Think about Limiting the Time Duration your authorization is in force – you can add that it has to be re-signed annually, or that if not it is null & void.
  • You can demand a full copy of information collected about you, unless you sign away those rights. Think about requesting, as a condition of continued authorization, a full copy of your file.
  • If you have anything troublesome, that you are not required by law to disclose, look into Expunging those Records. Certain types of records can be removed.
  • If there is something in your past that is now “fixed” but by law will remain public record, Come Clean & tell them about it.
  • Consider amending the document to add your “fine print” possibly to limit how they can use the collected data, what happens to the data if you cease to be a volunteer, your expectations as to how they will protect your data & identity.
  • Remember when you modify a contract, the other party has the right to refuse to agree the changes.

    But also remember this is NOT a commercial transaction, and that you are offing to volunteer – to provide your services – for free.

    If they refuse to accept reasonable modification – the claim that “this is standard, like it or lump it” posturing happens, you have to consider whether it is worth volunteering under the requested conditions.

    My take is if they value you so little as a volunteer, at that point I would tend to offer my time elsewhere.

    Personally I have refused checks & even testing until a document FAIR to both sides, and one that protected my rights, was negotiated.

    Not that I had anything to hide, but rather that the document I was presumed to be willing to sign waived my privacy and rights of recourse if their errors (such as chain of custody, or privacy) caused me harm.

    It wasn’t a matter of putting principle before practicality, but it was being a responsible citizen, including being responsible to myself & family by protecting our interests.

    You can do this too, if you stick to your guns.

    Also if the volunteer position is important to you but involves signing releases that make you uncomfortable, consider taking legal advice – this article is not a substitute for legal review of a specific situation. It is your rights at stake. Think hard and get advice.

    We need never give up our citizen rights just because an NGO requests we do.

    Good Luck




    2 thoughts on “Skeletons in the Closet? Make Them Dance for You – Strategies for Dealing with Background Checks

    1. […] I’ve touched on this subject before and you can read more at Skeletons in the Closet? Make Them Dance for You – Strategies for Dealing with Background Checks […]

    2. […] Skeletons in the Closet? Make Them Dance for You – Strategies for Dealing with Background Checks […]

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    %d bloggers like this: