Background Checks During the COVID-19 Crisis – How Employers can Cope

The temptation for businesses to cut back on background checks during the crisis is high, but the consequences could be severe, warns George Griffiths of uCheck.

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced many complications to the already extremely challenging world of business. Its repercussions were immediate and harsh for most companies, with quite a few of them buckling under the pressure immediately. The resulting unemployment hit vulnerable communities hardest and created a ton of societal friction and social unrest. This instability, in turn, made it even more difficult for businesses to function.

This vicious circle goes on and on. To break it, businesses have to adapt and make the best they can with what they have. Fast-tracking and corner-cutting are inevitable in similar situations.

However, there are some procedures in business that companies can’t afford to jeopardize. Even though the temptation to revise screening programs to reduce hiring times may be strong, this is an extremely bad idea. Doing so for any period of time hides risks that neither the business nor its customers can afford in such troubled times.

The Importance of Background Checks for Businesses and Their Customers

Ensuring that a worker is not a danger to the organization, its clients and the communities that the business caters to is both a moral, societal and legal obligation for companies. This is why companies should always beware of negligent hiring and retention. But what are negligent hiring and negligent retention?

If a company fails to take reasonable precautions during the hiring process, it can end up hiring a dangerous or unqualified individual. If that employee then causes harm to someone else, the company is liable due to negligent hiring. 

Naturally, companies are legally obligated to supervise their employees. Ensuring that each worker’s actions don’t threaten to harm the business, its customers or society should be a top priority for the company. Employers who fail to do so are liable for that employee’s harmful actions due to negligent retention.

In short, due diligence must be exercised at every turn to ensure both the company’s well-being and that of society at large. Employers need to have all the information they can legally get on their prospective employees and current workers to make informed decisions on the matter. That is the case whether the company is looking for regular employees or remote workers and freelancers.

Another, more legalistic reason for not skipping on background checks is that stopping them has legal repercussions.

Dropping part of the procedure even for a short bit creates a precedent – it is a declaration that the business doesn’t really need it for the company to function. The circumstances surrounding the precedent are often immaterial. Once a company stops using background checks, it surrenders its right to demand them and use their results as legal justification for its actions.

As a result, it is a terrible idea to stop doing proper background checks, even though doing them may well be difficult during the current ongoing crisis.

Problems With Public Records Screening

Checking public records is an integral part of performing a complete background check for a potential employee. In many cases, it is an essential part of the hiring process. Unfortunately, there could be quite a few issues with performing such checks. 

Information obtained by automated or online means is not always completely reliable. It often needs to be validated with a clerk at the court that keeps the records. This should not usually be a problem – but since we’re dealing with extraordinary circumstances, it may well be. 

For instance, the majority of the courts in the US are reported to be “open”. However, about a third of all the courts are able to provide only “limited results” for search queries, and about one in ten have outright closed their operations. 

In the UK, court closures have been an ongoing trend for a few decades, with digitization being well underway. Although the UK Government has done all it could to facilitate legal proceedings, technical difficulties or ongoing crises can make even trivial tasks problematic. 

Things can get even more complicated when dealing with record keeping systems of less developed nations or even regions of a country that are not sufficiently technologically advanced.

Put simply, if the records aren’t available, there’s not much one could do about it. If there are no clerks to sign off on it, a reliable background check can’t be performed at all. If court staff is not updating repositories, the available records can become unreliable very quickly – which is also bad.

In such situations, the employer needs to make a real effort to gather all the information available. If they feel that the information that they collected when hiring the employee is incomplete, it would be prudent to perform additional checks as soon as the option becomes available.

Problems With Verification Screenings

Verifying certificates and degrees can also be a challenge during a crisis. Although most large organizations keep detailed databases containing all the information an employer may need to perform a verification screening, this is not always the case. Employers and education centers that utilize a more traditional set of methods may not have invested in the technology necessary for easy access to that sort of information. This can be particularly problematic for applicants from vulnerable communities who have attained a lower degree or have worked in a small or medium business that is currently closed.

In such situations, an employer needs to gather all the available information and decide based on what they know. In this case, erring on the side of caution may be prudent, but not necessarily always the best course of action.

What would undoubtedly always be the best course of action is for the employer to verify any details as soon as the opportunity arises. It is essential to remember that recommendations, certificates, and even official documents can be fake, and this turns out to be the case surprisingly often. A responsible employer must ascertain that they are not being deceived – both for the good of the company and for its customers.

Problems With Drug Tests

While labs all over the world are currently overburdened by the demand for COVID-19 testing, performing one time or even routine drug testing should not be too much of an issue for employers. 

Due to consistently high demand over the years, access to this sort of service may be easier to secure than one would expect during a pandemic. Tests using oral fluid can be accessible, quick and safe to perform and provide satisfactory results for the purposes of most employers.

Additional Due Diligence

Social media screenings are not a replacement for any other type of public record search or verifications screening. Still, it can be invaluable for employers, as it may give additional insight into a candidate’s personality and history. Online reviews and interviews can add crucial nuance that may be essential for the employer’s decision to hire or retain a worker. 

Unorthodox screening methods are especially useful if there are currently no reliable means to verify information about the person. After all, a diploma is not difficult to fake. This is not necessarily the case when it comes to several years to a decade of social media activity, blogging, etc. Conversely, the lack of a social media presence can be a sign that something’s not right.

George Griffiths is the managing director of uCheck DBS Checks. In 2013, George came on board full time with the goal of working together to create a fluid and successful business development structure. His focus for the future is to drive the development of the uCheck HR Platform and continue to align his way of working with their mission statement — to always care about getting it right.

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