Why Do You Need My SSN for Volunteer Background Checks?

volunteer-background-checksI will admit that I don’t hand over my social security number very easily.  I want to know why somebody needs it and how they are going to safeguard it. So I am sympathetic to volunteers being nervous about providing their SSN for volunteer background checks.   They have a right to ask a few questions.

Yes, there are specific laws that require you to provide your SSN like to the IRS for tax purposes or to your employer for wage and tax reporting.

I have been asked several times recently if it is legal to ask for an SSN as part of a background check.  The simple answer is yes.

Now, does a volunteer have to give their SSN to an organization as part of their criminal background check process?  Absolutely not.

Huh?  That is right.  You have a right to ask and they have a right to say no.

The Social Security Administration provides legal requirements to provide your social security numberVolunteer background checks are not listed as a legal requirement.

You need to read through the entire page.  Just because you are not required to give it does not mean the organization cannot ask for it.  It is not illegal to ask.

The second to last paragraph sums up the debate:

”If a business or other enterprise asks you for your Social Security number, you can refuse to give it. However, that may mean doing without the purchase or service for which your number was requested.”

So what does that mean for a volunteer who refuses to provide their SSN as part of your screening process?

  1. You cannot require them to provide it;
  2. They have no discrimination claim; and
  3. You do NOT have to allow them to volunteer if they refuse.

It is no different than if a volunteer refused to sign an authorization for the background check.  You cannot make them.  They have a right to refuse.  But you also have a right to refuse them as a volunteer if they will not submit to your policies and procedures.

I do think it is important for our partners to articulate why the SSN is an important part of the volunteer screening program.  Our volunteers have a right to know how their SSN will be handled and used.

Quite honestly, we cannot conduct a quality volunteer background checks without the SSN.  The social security number:

  1. Identifies the volunteer.
  2. Helps determine correct spelling of name(s).  Without the SSN a volunteer with something to hide could alter the spelling of their name, change their name, etc.  How would you know?
  3. Identifies any other names a person has been known by.  Without SSN we are relying on the victim to provide this.  What if they have unsuitable criminal records under another undisclosed name?
  4. Identifies address history so we know where to search at the county level.

The bottom line is you should require the SSN as part of your background screening program.  It is simply not worth the risk of missing a serious criminal record.  Also spend a little time educating your volunteers why the SSN is important and your commitment to safeguarding their sensitive information.

Join us for a free webinar:  How to Conduct Comprehensive Volunteer Background Checks