Employment Screening Challenges Intensify Due to COVID-19

By Kevin Bachman April 7, 2020
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​Employment background screening has been disrupted as employers adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, screenings have been put on hold because courthouses and schools are closed, blocking access to records. In addition, uncertainty about deteriorating business conditions has caused some employers to pull back on hiring.

"There is a clear difference among market sectors," said Greg Dubecky, president of Corporate Screening, a Cleveland-based screening firm. "As you would expect, our health care business and government-related business is up—around 20 percent. Energy and manufacturing have both declined nearly 40 percent."

Many employers have laid off sizeable portions of their workforce or shut their doors entirely. Without the business to support the staff they have, there's little need to hire new employees or replace those who leave. Screening companies have been affected, too: Many have moved toward a remote workforce and aren't operating at 100 percent capacity.

What isn't known right now is the percentage of an employer's reduction in hiring that is temporary. It's possible that screens that were temporarily placed on hold will be reactivated, but it'd be a mistake to assume it will be back to business as usual.

Completing screens today has hit a few roadblocks, as well. "The fact that there are court closures and people are working remotely has become a huge challenge for everyone involved in screening employees," said Pamela Devata, a partner in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw.

Court closures, while intended to protect public safety, present a practical problem.  "Some of the few industries actively hiring during this time are industries working directly with vulnerable persons—industries like health care, transportation, and food or grocery delivery—where background checks are a critical safety step in the hiring process," said Melissa Sorenson, executive director for the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA).

If an HR manager or university registrar is needed to provide an employment or education verification, they're more likely to take longer to respond. According to Dubecky, "as reporting sources like employers, schools and universities are transitioning to shelter-in-place orders, it's become difficult for screeners to retrieve needed information."

The PBSA has published a list of courts that have closed, along with any limitations or restrictions on access for those that remain open. But the long-term solution is technological. "PBSA hopes that as the nation works together and comes through this pandemic in the weeks and months to come, this will serve as a catalyst for more courthouses to move to electronic record keeping and record access," Sorenson said.

These delays could prompt companies with urgent hiring needs to skip the background check. That too comes with risk and isn't a recommended practice given the possibility of negligent hiring litigation against employers. While screening services grapple with how to provide those background checks quickly and efficiently, it's imperative that they not cut corners to please a client with a vital need for speed.

"One thing that has not changed is that the Fair Credit Reporting Act still applies to employers and screeners," Devata said, "and the plaintiff's bar will be waiting for those entities who forget that fact."

Kevin Bachman is The CRA Doctor and host of Background Check Radio, a podcast focusing on employment screening issues and industry leaders. He is a background check industry veteran who provides strategic and operational solutions to screening firms and data providers and helps employers create optimal screening programs to fit their needs and budget. He can be reached through his website or kevin@cradoctor.com.

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