While COVID-19 poses some challenges to screening new hires, these strategies help companies conduct due diligence now and in the new normal.
By Debbie Bolla
For the last few months, organizations have been forced to think on their feet and devise human capital strategies in response to COVID-19. While some organizations have had to put a freeze on hiring, plenty of companies, including Kroger, Healthfirst, and Instacart, are on the opposite end of the spectrum, ramping up pools of essential workers. During this time of social distancing and state closure mandates, HR has had to enlist a bevy of approaches to get new workers on board. On that list: background screening. Verifying the many facets of a candidate’s background is imperative to mitigating risk and ensuring a positive hire no matter the climate.
“It is important that even during times of change and uncertainty, such as we are now experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses maintain consistent screening practices and clearly communicate these practices throughout the recruiting, hiring, and onboarding process to mitigate risk,” explains Tim Dowd, president and chief operating officer of Accurate Background. “Employers must also be aware that despite the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, they must still fully comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). FCRA procedures and requirements are still in effect, and FCRA disclosure and authorizations are required as usual to perform a background check.”
And the safety of the workforce remains paramount, perhaps now more than ever. “Organizations’ need to safeguard their employees, clients, and communities in which they operate is even more critical during times of change and uncertainty,” says Brian Hullinger, chief revenue officer for Cisive. “Evolving their screening practices while maintaining safety and security standards will allow them to adapt and, in some instances, overcome market and labor conditions.”
The global health crisis has forced HR leaders to rethink their approaches, as closures have caused limited access to courts and public records, leading to a considerable delay in the ability to review pivotal employee information.
“With many county courthouses closed across the nation, it is next to impossible to provide clients with county-level searches in those areas heavily impacted,” says Brian Chapman, CEO of MBI Worldwide. “As an alternative, state-level searches may be available.”
Thinking creatively in terms of the source of information can also move the process along, says Dan Filby, CEO of Universal Background Screening. “A company can leverage what is available and what they can get from the candidates. For instance, a school may be closed due to the pandemic, but the organization can still obtain a copy of the candidate’s degree,” he explains. “Although it is not ‘primary source’ verified, they can still run an education verification and make the job contingent on the verification officially coming back while hiring the candidate in the meantime.”
Other substitutions for verifications are being made as HR conducts due diligence prior to making an offer. “In cases where we must verify employment and education, employers are accepting supporting documentation from the candidate, such as W2s (salary redacted where prohibited by law or company policy) and transcripts from their college or university,” says Kirk Bogue, vice president of operations for Employment Screening Resources (ESR).
Filby says that state governments have stepped in to help move along the hiring of essential workers. For example, some states are allowing outside agencies to conduct fingerprint verifications since some government programs are suspended. Drug screening remains possible, but not all clinics are open, so MBI’s Chapman advises calling the facility to check on their operational status and to wear a mask during the visit as a precaution.
Restrictions from the coronavirus are causing organizations to shift the responsibilities of their workers in response to market needs, and in some cases, a rescreen makes sense. Dowd gives the example of a restaurant server moving into a delivery position. “In this instance, it’s important to review your background screening policy and make sure the appropriate background checks are conducted based on the employee’s new role and in compliance with your documented policy,” he recommends. “Restaurants might not have conducted motor vehicle records checks on wait staff, but are now relying on those employees to perform food deliveries during quarantines.”
Today’s technology has helped organizations keep up with the pace of hiring surges while maintaining compliance and navigating the challenging nature of some market restrictions. “Technology properly tailored to meet an organization’s unique requirements can be the ultimate tool for increasing efficiency, enhancing the applicant experience, ensuring compliance, and reducing the cost of hire,” says Hullinger. “By using technology to automate data capture, information exchange, and improved applicant interaction, organizations have more time to focus on the people that they want to join their team.”
The circumstances caused by COVID-19 allow technology platforms to shine and even provide improved screening processes to possibly leverage in the future. “With the shelter in place orders, many non-essential office-based employees have not had an option other than to work remotely. Technology allows us to communicate virtually in this new norm,” says Chapman. “Using text and emailed documents for signatures, e-passports for drug screening appointments, and digital background check forms allow the entire process to be completed without ever seeing the applicant.”
Platforms also increase the number of communication channels between candidates and the organization. “Technology ensures that throughout the entire process, the requestors receive communications with respect to the status of their candidates completing their screening,” says Filby. “Tracking and reporting is also made easy for managers and requestors to obtain information while working remotely.”
Returning to Work
Organizations will face tough questions in the coming months as some of the workforce returns to the office and to a new normal.
“As we begin to see more businesses reopen in the coming months, companies need to give careful consideration to the screening processes they plan to implement for furloughed employees returning to work,” says Dowd. He recommends that organizations should take a few things into consideration when deciding on a rescreen, including:
- the duration of the layoff or furlough;
- the level of supervision;
- the independence allowed by role; and
- any safety sensitivities in the role.
Attorney and CEO of ESR Les Rosen says organizations may need to approach rescreens on a case-by-case basis. “If a background check seems worthwhile before bringing a worker back, an employer should make sure it is commensurate with the risk. It is likely not necessary to do an entire background check, but perhaps, a criminal check of the county or jurisdiction where the applicant resides or where the work is to be performed,” he explains.
As organizations consider enforcing remote work for the long term, their background screening approach should follow suit. “Given the potential change in the way we work, with more reliance on remote and unsupervised work environments, companies may require a broader scope of screenings, including drug testing and the adoption of monitoring tools,” Dowd advises.