Global COVID Lockdown Impacts Employment Background Screening

May 11, 2020
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rising challenges in employment screening services

With billions being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world continues to hold its breath, hoping to see the slightest sign of a slowdown in the number of new cases. 

Almost every business sector has been affected by this crisis.  Everything, including employment opportunities, has come to a grinding halt, because of the stringent implementation of the lockdown policy across the globe. Companies are finding it difficult to get through with their hiring processes, and potential employees have to continue to wait because of the impact of this pandemic.

In such a scenario, employment screening services have also been hampered due to certain requirements and limitations. 

Find out the challenges this crucial part of the hiring process is facing and how some of the government agencies have created temporary solutions to meet them. 

Importance of Background Checks

Background check is an essential part of the process of employment screening services. It continues to gain mainstream adoption, especially  as surveys show that almost 50% of job seekers falsify key information on their resume and job applications. The benefit of using employment screening services is that it helps to assure the employers that job seekers have provided correct and accurate information.

Employers need to trust their employees. Companies are now eager to implement rigorous background screen processes, even when it involves some costs. Each individual that is employed has the potential to pose legal, financial, PR, or regulatory challenges for your company based on their actions, including online activities. 

Challenges Due to COVID Lockdown

Whether it is the employers, prospective employees or employment screening services, almost everyone is facing new and never-before-seen challenges amid the COVID-19 global lockdown. Many companies have temporarily shut down or are operating with minimal staff strength. 

One of the biggest challenges faced by the HR departments is the need to conduct background checks of job seeker applications which are almost in their final stages. This has also created uncertainties or painful delays for the job seekers.

Flexibility in Form I-9 Compliance by DHS in the US

One of the examples of how authorities are taking up this challenge is the recent announcement by the US Department of Homeland Security. The agency has announced that it will temporarily defer the requirement for the physical presence of employees for Employment Eligibility Verification for Form I-9. This step has been taken in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown and the social distancing norms laid down by the US government.

According to this announcement, organizations, where employees are required to follow social distancing norms , are temporarily not required to be physically present during the review of their documents for employee identity and employment authorization verification.  The physical presence of the employee is otherwise mandatory under Section 274A of the INA. 

The new provisions allow employers to carry out employment screening services remotely. Section 2 related documents can be inspected remotely using email, fax, or video. It is also mentioned that the documents can be obtained and inspected within three business days to complete the Section 2. 

This provision requires that after the lockdown ends, the employers need to mention COVID-19 as the reason for the delay in inspection, in the appropriate fields of the form. The DHS announcement has laid down the conditions for conducting the physical inspection in detail.

The employers are expected to have telecommuting and remote on-boarding capabilities. In the current technological environment, most employers will most likely have access to such technologies. After the lockdown comes to an end, all the employees who went through the remote verification process are required to be physically present for the inspection of their identity and employment eligibility criteria.

The DHS has made it clear that this provision is applicable for company offices that have been forced to operate remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If a company has employees who are working from its offices, then the provision doesn’t apply. However, it has been seen that most businesses are affected by lockdown or quarantine and the department will be assessing each case individually.

It is also allowed for the employers to designate authorized employment screening services to complete the inspection and verification on their behalf. The responsibility of such inspection lies with the employer. 

The DHS has provided an automatic extension of 60 days to all companies that have been served the Notice of Inspection. The department may further consider the situation to determine whether more extension needs to be provided.

Impact on Background Checks

Currently, more than 38% of US counties have been affected by the lockdown, while another 15% counties have been completely locked down in the United States. In this 15 % of the counties, it is almost impossible to access records. The degree of impact on employment screening services can be realized from the following facts:

Criminal Checks

Many counties have their databases in digitized form. This means that their turnaround times may not be as affected. At the same time, many county courts make human interaction mandatory to access records. Criminal records can still be accessed from many courts through mediums like fax, mail, phone, and various online resources. However, there are still some delays to be experienced. Yet, many courts have been completely closed. There is no way to access the records unless and until the lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Employment & Education Verification

In most of the cases, educational verifications can be carried out without much delay. However, as most educational institutes are closed worldwide, there is an evident delay in these times. This can also mean the inability to conduct the check.

When it comes to employment verification, employers are relying on digital resources and completing the checks online. Still, many employers, in lockdown counties, are fully closed and are yet to adapt their resources to enable employees to work from home. This has been a cause of delay in employment screening services.

Motor Vehicle Record Checks

All Motor Vehicle Record checks are required to pass through the transport department’s electronic system of the specific country. And it is not possible to process them without the department’s access code. 

Drug Screening

While some drug screen labs are closed because of the social distancing policy, many others continue to be open and are providing their services. However, shelter-in-place orders may prevent candidates from entering labs if it is not considered as an essential position. So this aspect of employment screening services can create a challenge for employers and employees.

Recent Trend in Employment Background Checks

Many countries are moving towards the implementation of a more robust system of employment screening services. This has been recognized to help add more transparency and accuracy to the process of hiring and a long-term employer-employee relationship. Human resources are responsible for conducting reference checks based on past employment history and based on the information that each candidate provides.

The process of authentication of educational qualifications, physical address, and criminal records has been specifically hampered by the COVID lockdown. More and more employers are relying on third-party employment screening services to get around this challenge.

Shift in Recruitment Strategy to Virtual Platforms

Many employers are now shifting to virtual platforms based on intelligent automated systems to facilitate employment screening services. Such platforms enable virtual screening and interviewing in place of in-person interviews or inspections.

Many organizations report that since the surge in the number of Coronavirus cases, they have canceled only a few interviews. Most interviews have been postponed,  however some employers are using video platforms based on the importance and urgency of the job position. Many employers are conducting travel history checks for the past three months. Many are also conducting medical history checks and tracking any changes in residential addresses given the current pandemic.

Virtual platforms are allowing talent acquisition teams to connect with candidates across the entire recruitment process. It is possible to connect in real-time to facilitate interviews or verification of information. This allows candidates to appear for interviews from any remote location. 

The use of virtual screening has proven to be of crucial benefit to employers. It prevents the need for candidates to be physically present at the location for the interview. Everyone currently realizes the importance of social distancing in not just preventing the spread of the virus, but also in enabling business continuity.

A Case for Provisional Hiring

Some employers have found provisional hiring as a solution to the COVID lockdown challenge. However, provisional hiring comes with its own set of challenges for recruiters. It is essential for employers to outline their policies related to the provisional hiring process and the changes they will be making to the screening practices. This can help ensure consistency in the treatment meted out to all the employees. 

At the same time, the employers should create policies for handling situations where certain objections may be found later, after an employment screening service conducts background checks. These policies should guide the process, whereby an employee starts working with the organization. In the United States, the federal adverse action process will still apply to provisional hiring. If an employee is terminated based on the findings from the background check, a waiting period of five business days is required, after the first pre-adverse action notice is sent to the employee. This makes it essential to have a policy in place.

The Current Scenario

According to the International Labor Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic will threaten 25 million jobs. However, the impact of partial and full lockdown will affect around 2.7 billion workers globally. This is equivalent to 4 out of 5 of the global workforce. The global unemployment rate was about 190 million at the start of the year, but the pandemic is expected to increase it further.  

Retail, food, accommodation, business services, and manufacturing are the most affected employment sectors. All these sectors contribute almost two-fifth to global employment. 

Organizations have taken the current pandemic situation with utmost seriousness. They are concerned about their employee health, and many companies are operating at 50% or even lower manpower strength from their premises. Many employees are asked to work from their homes. In such a situation, many employers have delayed their recruitment and employment screening services

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has created a global situation that was not seen before with the exception of World War 2. A vaccine or even a dedicated medication has still not been found. Both governments and organizations around the world are struggling to manage the challenges posed by the spread of this virus. In such a situation, business operations and employment have been affected in ways never seen before the great recession. 

As employers struggle to get around all these challenges, employment screening services have also been affected. Technology seems to be an empowering solution in the current scenario. Yet with many offices shut down or having been affected by partial or full lockdown, access to data has been a big challenge. As the world enters the next stage of the pandemic, we can only hope that the next few weeks witness the straightening of the COVID infection curve.