Every Organization Needs a Little HEART: 5 Steps to Protect Your Campus


Employ these 5 steps to help identify potential adult and child perpetrators and educate employees about sexual violence                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Protection Is Necessary Throughout an Employee's Tenure

The five steps of HEART are:

  • H: Avoiding red flags during HIRING
  • E: Ongoing EDUCATION
  • A: Increasing AWARENESS
  • R: Strategies to maximize REPORTING
  • T: The importance of TRAINING

Each of these letters, in and of themselves, could make for a lengthy and multi-part article. This is a high-level overview to provide you with some tangible, strategic takeaways you can immediately enact within your campus.

Before enacting or changing a procedure, please ensure that you are following your state’s laws, as well as any local laws, ordinances, and charters.


Within the “H” of HEART, there are four steps to ensure that you’re hiring the best and avoiding the perp: 1. Job applications; 2. Behavioral interviewing; 3. Reference checks; and 4. Pre- and post-hire multistate background checks.

Step 1: Job Applications

A few “dos and don’ts” of job applications include:

  • Do use a state-specific job application.
  • Don’t ask for an applicant’s protected characteristics. Such information is generally not relevant to job qualifications.
  • Don’t exclusively use online applications as this can exclude groups of people from applying and open you up to a discrimination claim.
  • Know your state’s laws about inquiring into an applicant’s salary history.

Additionally, the following information should be included and specific to your state’s laws:

  • Statement requiring the applicant to provide proof of legal authorization to work
  • Certification that the information provided on the application is true and correct, and a statement that any omission or misstatement of material fact shall be grounds for rejection of the application or immediate termination
  • Authorization for the employer to thoroughly investigate all references, work records, education, etc.
  • Acknowledgement that the employer may obtain and investigate a consumer report about the applicant, with a list of types of reports that may be pulled, and a statement that any job offer is contingent upon passing
  • Bold, all-capitalized statement that the applicant has read, understood, and accepts all conditions of employment

Step 2: Behavioral Interviewing

The most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations. Behavioral interviewing moves away from simple “yes” and “no” questions and instead focuses on an applicant’s work history by asking them to provide specific examples of how they acted in certain situations. The answer to these questions provides insight into the applicant’s thought process and can trigger red flags.

One of the most common ways to accomplish this is by using the STAR method:

  • Situation: Tell me about a time...
  • Task: When you didn’t agree with something your manager told you to do.
  • Action: What did you do to resolve it?
  • Results: How did it turn out? What did you learn from this experience?

Step 3: Reference Checks

Reference checks are a goldmine! Employers are generally afraid of them for fear of crossing into HIPAA or protected classes territory, but this is one of the best and easiest ways to find serious red flags that would otherwise go undetected. When speaking with references, consider it similar to behavioral interviewing.

Many questions can be asked of references. Here are three sample questions:

  • If the reference was a supervisor of the applicant:
    • How did they meet the challenges of the role and manage the pressure of the job?
    • Were there any workplace conduct or ethical incidents caused by this applicant when they worked for your company? Please describe.
  • The magic question: This one simple question works every time and provides some of the best information you can gain on an applicant:
    • What is the applicant’s greatest strength and weakness?

Remember, you are not limited to only speaking with the people the applicant listed. You can speak with other bosses and ask references for the contact information of additional people you should speak with.

Step 4: Pre- and Post-Hire Multistate Background Checks

Pre- and post-hire multistate background checks are a must. What can you check:

  • Nationwide and State-Specific Criminal and Sex Offender Registries – Employers should be checking ALL criminal offender registries in your state. While it is important to check the sex offender registry, that, in and of itself, is insufficient as many sex offenders have not been convicted. Many other criminal registries (e.g., domestic violence, felony, animal cruelty, etc.) have direct relationships to sexual misconduct and other types of workplace and campus violence. Make sure to search for alternative names (e.g., shortened names, hyphenated names, maiden names, etc.) and alternate dates of birth.
  • License databases
  • Social media
  • Depending upon the position, some employers are allowed to check driving history, liens and judgments, and credit history

The Reality of Post-Hire Checks

Approximately 77 million Americans, or one in three adults, have a criminal record. As a result, background checks should never be a one-and-done type of situation. Employers should not assume that passing an initial background check means there will never be issues down the line. At least one person who passes a background check will likely commit a crime after beginning employment. If you think that you don’t have to run background checks because a prospective or current employee will be honest and volunteer their criminal background to you, think again.

Understanding the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Did you know that the FCRA isn’t just about credit? It applies to all types of consumer information. Make sure you understand your state-specific FCRA requirements when it comes to: 1. Application of the FCRA; 2. Disclosure and written authorization; 3. What to do when you find an arrest or conviction; and 4. EEOC Balancing Test.

Enacting Post-Hire Background Checks

When it comes to conducting post-hire checks, make sure to have an updated background check policy and inform your employees of such. Enacting post-hire checks has a few requirements, but it’s completely doable:

  • Include a point of contact in the policy;
  • If post-hire background checks are new, have a company-wide meeting to roll out the policy and answer any questions;
  • Have employees sign a policy acknowledgment;
  • Determine what to screen (e.g., criminal history, drug testing, DMV/MVR search, professional license verification); and
  • Comply with laws in your state (e.g., FCRA notice, drug testing policies, etc.).


It’s really as simple as it seems. It just takes a little bit of proactivity and organization, but here are some easy and doable ways to stay on top of education:

  • Ongoing training at every level (even volunteers!)
  • Newsletters
  • Webinars
  • Conferences
  • News articles
  • Online training videos
  • Stay up to date on laws
  • AI and social media changes


One of the most important aspects of ongoing awareness is understanding the gray areas, which includes identifying warning signs and red flags. Very rarely will you ever see obvious signs (e.g., black eyes). The majority of warning signs are subtle and need to be taken in their totality.

Click here for five sample warning signs checklists with an explanation of how to use them.


There are many parts to reporting and we’ll briefly cover two of them here: employee-complaint hotlines and mandatory reporting.

Employee Complaint Hotline

Don’t be afraid of an employee-compliant hotline…you should want one!

If you create an environment where your employees trust you, where they feel seen and heard, and they know that you’ll thoroughly investigate all complaints, they are much more likely to use the hotline rather than going straight to an attorney.

Some of the benefits of an employee-complaint hotline, include:

  • 24/7 access for your employees, so they can call on their own time when they feel comfortable and safe
  • Anonymous (or semi-anonymous) reporting will also allow employees to feel secure, likely resulting in higher usage of the hotline
  • It improves employee morale
  • Provides potential legal defense and/or mitigation of damages (based on case law)
  • Early notification of potential problems allows for a quick resolution and an opportunity to prevent escalation

Mandatory Reporting

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one in four girls and one in 13 boys in the US will be the victim of child sexual abuse. With the prevalence of sexual misconduct and child-on-child sexual abuse on the rise, going through the motions of only taking your state-required mandated reporter training is no longer sufficient.

Who Is a Mandatory Reporter?

A mandated reporter is anyone required by law to report actual or suspected child abuse and neglect. California has a list of nearly 50 professions that are mandated reporters. Additionally, while 47 states have a required list of specific reporters, 18 states require everybody to report. Click here to see if you’re in one of those states.

What Do I Have to Report?

While this can vary from state to state, generally you will have to report all physical and sexual abuse of a minor (in addition to any other specific groups your state requires). It’s also important here to understand the subtle warning signs and gray areas to fully understand what you need to report. See the Awareness section for the Warning Signs Checklist.

What is the Standard for Reporting?

You have to use your common sense and best judgment to decide when and if to report. Unfortunately, no hard and fast rule says, if you see XYZ, then you must report. For example, in California, there are two standards for reporting: 1. actual abuse and 2. reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is just that: suspicion that is reasonable. In fact, in California, you don’t need any of the following to have reasonable suspicion:

  • Evidence;
  • Proof;
  • Certainty;
  • Medical indication.

To Whom Do I Report? And When?

Depending on your state, you will have different people and/or groups to report to and specific timelines to follow. You may be required to report to any combination of the following: 1. your supervisor; 2. your local child welfare agency; and/or 3. your local law enforcement agency.

What Happens if I’m Incorrect About a Report I Made?

If you make a report and it turns out you were incorrect about what you saw/heard/believed, don’t worry. As long as the report was made in good faith, there’s no liability to you or your organization.

Training Requirements

Mandatory reporter training varies by state, industry, and job position. Click here to see the requirements for your specific state.


The last part of HEART involves training. As the topic of training is quite broad and all-encompassing, the following is a high-level, 30,000-foot view of a few things to keep in mind:

  • There should be one comprehensive, current handbook for all departments. There may be supplemental policies that vary from department to department, but there should still only be one employee handbook. Having different variations of employee handbooks with different departments updating them will lead to severe inconsistencies and will open you up to very avoidable claims and suits.
  • Everyone should be trained regularly. This includes all staff (including part-time, administrative, executive management, and everyone in between), parents, students, and volunteers.
  • How often you train may vary from group to group and department to department, but it should always be consistent and, at a minimum, yearly.
  • There should be training on new handbook policies, as described above.

Finally, here are a few key human resources (HR) and sexual misconduct and molestation (SML) handbook policies you should have in your employee handbook.

Recommended HR Handbook Policies:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity
  • Prohibition Against Discrimination and Harassment
  • Workplace Violence
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act
  • General Workplace Safety
  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Federal Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Complaint Reporting Procedure

Recommended SML Handbook Policies:

  • Boundaries
  • Libraries
  • Pools
  • Locker Rooms
  • Sports and Gymnastics
  • Bathrooms
  • Day Cares and Camps
  • School Buses
  • Volunteers
  • Social Media and Internet
  • After School Programs
  • Summer Recreational Programs
  • Mandatory Reporting
  • Reporting and Investigating Procedures

For more information in any of these areas, or if you have any questions, please reach out to your supervisor, human resources department, or legal counsel.


By Jill Ostrove, VP of SML, Public Entity, and D&O Risk Management, ePlace Solutions

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