Setting the Stage for an Abuse-Free Organization

By Jack Roche

Jack Roche
Facing high demand for services, nonprofit resources and time are more stretched than ever, which means having clear risk management practices is key, and as part of those efforts, screening job candidates and current employees should be a top priority.

While the vast majority of human services workers are caring and attentive, cases of abuse occur. And, when they do, they cause emotional angst within an organization, long-term damage to its reputation, and can make it more difficult to secure funding and volunteers. In addition, a lawsuit could ultimately prevent a human services organization from continuing its positive work over the long-term.

Consider the case of an entity that failed to run a background check on a tutor who was later accused of raping an eight-year-old girl. According to the manager, a request for a background check was submitted, but because of an error in the administration office, it was never forwarded to the appropriate state record office and, subsequently, never completed. Unfortunately that organization is now managing all of the troubling consequences, including being named in a lawsuit filed by the victim’s family.

Although there is no foolproof way to identify potential abusers, there are some proven ways for human services organizations to minimize the risks in their hiring process.

They can start by identifying a local independent insurance agent who has considerable experience working with human service agencies and who works with carriers that offer solid human services programs designed especially for the unique risks and exposures of the industry.

Every organization should have a clear process in place that will help prevent issues from arising. In that context, the following key steps are essential for any nonprofit organization to follow:
  • Screen everyone ”“ Whether the hiring person knows candidates personally, whether they come highly recommended by well-respected employees, or even if they are related to the top management of the organization, anyone who will be associated with a human service agency needs to be thoroughly screened.

  • Be clear about your mission ”“ Before a potential candidate even fills out an application, he or she should be given and asked to read the agency’s policies on abuse, neglect, and employee conduct. Upon hiring, have candidates sign a statement confirming that they fully understand those policies and that they will adhere to the policies at all times.

  • Conduct background checks early on ”“ A complete background check should be a part of the screening process to help prevent those convicted of abuse from receiving any offer of employment. It is important to have the candidate sign an authorization for the background check before one is performed. Be aware that if the background check is conducted by a third-party vendor, your organization must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s pre-adverse and adverse notification requirements. Be sure to comply with all federal, state, and local laws on background checks.

  • Ask the right questions ”“ Make sure that everyone involved in the interview process is formally trained on interview techniques for screening the potential candidate for abuse, (e.g., use open ended questions for more information, provide scenarios of potential incidents, and ask for their perspective, etc.). Whenever possible try to have all candidates interview with multiple people. Any deviations or inconsistencies within the interviewing team should be seen as red flags that warrant follow-up.

  • Check references ”“ One of the best predictors of the future is the past. Reference checks provide critical information about candidates. Always seek verbal references, as written references are difficult to verify. Conversations can elicit much more information than written responses.
Screening and hiring a quality employee or volunteer is an important process. And even following the steps described is no guarantee that it will keep someone with a past history of abusive behavior, or a potential abuser, from joining an organization.

If even one such individual is successfully screened out of the hiring process, it will be worth every bit of the added time and expense. Your clients, customers, and employees all benefit by your consistently taking these steps. While risk control serves as the foremost way to mitigate risks, a knowledgeable independent agent who can advise you on the right insurance coverages to protect you when something does go wrong is the best way to control your exposures.

Jack Roche is president of Business Insurance at The Hanover Insurance Group, which provides a broad range of insurance coverage for small to mid-sized organizations, from nonprofits to private companies. Contact him at
June 2013