Appendix A: FAQ

If a previous employer won’t give any information about the person’s performance, what are our options?
You cannot force a former employer to provide you with information. However, you should ask as many questions as possible to ensure that you have explored possible avenues of information. Make a written note of the questions asked even if there is no response. You have fulfilled your responsibility for checking an applicant’s references if you ask the necessary questions, even if the response is not informative.

What should congregations do to keep secure the personnel records of the minister, professional leadership, church staff, and volunteers?
Personnel records, including applications and reference checks, must be maintained in a locked filing system administered by human resources or staff with similar responsibilities. Personnel files should not be generally accessible; an individual must have authorization prior to gaining access to another employee’s or volunteer’s file. Material such as medical records and criminal history documents should be maintained in a locked filing system separate from the main personnel files.

We understand that the Ministerial Fellowship Committee requires that ministers report all criminal convictions, former or current. What is the purpose of this rule? Should our congregation make a similar requirement?
As explained above in the Responsible Staffing policy, a history of criminal convictions may be relevant to an applicant’s suitability for a particular position. For instance, an individual with a history of sexual abuse convictions would not be suitable for a ministerial position. In some situations, a congregation could be considered negligent and legally liable if it hired an individual with a criminal conviction history and it did not take appropriate steps to ensure that such conduct would not be repeated. Hence, we recommend that congregations do full criminal conviction histories for anyone seeking a position as minister or professional leader. In addition, each congregation should require all staff to provide immediate notice of at least any criminal convictions, and any arrests or institution of legal proceedings of any kind to the extent required by state law, arising during employment.

How do we go about reference and background checks when the person has spent significant time abroad?
The mere fact that an individual has spent time abroad does not alter the responsibility to conduct a review of the individual’s qualifications, performance, and conduct. Although the resources for such review may be more limited, background checks should be conducted using the resources reasonably available.

Are there any questions which under federal or state law the committee cannot ask of persons for positions in

  • Ministry
  • Religious professions
  • Staff?

General guidelines about impermissible areas of inquiry can be found on the website for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Impermissible areas of inquiry may involve an applicant’s status as a disabled individual (see the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Pre-employment Disability Related Questions and Medical Examinations) or matters such as race/color and national origin. Local anti-discrimination agencies may also provide additional information on permissible areas of inquiry.