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Caroline Smith


VP, Deputy General Counsel

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Recruitment: how to mitigate the risk of background screening delays during Covid-19

Background checks may look different in the future.

No matter which sector you work in, where your business is located, or how your business is run, normal hiring cycles will have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. During the lockdown, and even after it’s been lifted in some countries, companies are facing a number of new recruitment challenges including: increased recruitment in certain sectors; the need to recruit skilled critical hires in greater numbers; ‘virtual’ recruitment processes; and managing all of this during a period of significant economic impact.

Many organisations – now more than ever – need to get new workers into their organisations quickly but also safely. The limitations around availability of sources is impacting typical screening turnaround times. 

Companies that need to hire people now have two competing interests: the need to manage their employment risk, and the need to hire quickly and cost-efficiently. This article will look at some of the steps you can take to overcome these challenges and balance those competing interests.

The practical considerations

During lockdown we entered a period of enforced remote working and, as we emerge from this many companies may be returning to the office with social distancing measures in place, or continuing remote work in some form. One of the challenges of this new way of working is the ability to verify information provided by candidates.  

Initial lockdown measures caused data sources to either close or prioritise checks for key workers. Sources will slowly reopen but with reduced staff and, if we see a second Covid-19 spike, restrictions may be increased again. This poses challenges when verifying information in the preferred way, directly at source. With so many in lockdown and with the probability that many companies will pivot to remote working in the future, there are many logistical considerations to be made. Candidates at home may not have the tools they need to access critical supporting documents.

In addition, many companies have furloughed employees performing ‘non-critical’ roles. With reduced numbers in these roles, the availability of information at some data sources, or the time to retrieve it may be impacted.

If you use a background screening provider, they can help you manage this by monitoring those sources and working proactively with them to understand when and how they can accept verification requests. They can also make sure that where verifications are impacted by Covid-19 it is clearly marked, so HR teams can run reports and make decisions when sources re-open as to whether or not those verifications should be attempted again. Finally, a screening provider should partner with you on your screening programme to tailor it in order to take these unique times into account. Here are five things to think about.

1. Using a risk matrix to identify alternative checks

You still want to be able to address identified risks to your business when making hiring decisions, although the normal verifications used to mitigate those risks may not be available with source closures. The use of a risk matrix can help pinpoint those risks that require mitigation against other background checks. This will enable businesses to form a proactive solution where certain checks are unavailable, averting potential problems for organisations needing to bring candidates into their business quickly, especially into critical roles.

2. Making changes to your standard processes

We are used to verifying information at source and it remains the best way to conduct verifications. You may, however, wish to consider a temporary change in process to mitigate impacted turnaround times or availability where sources are either closed or their normal way of working is impacted. This can be particularly useful when verifying employment history, as the candidate can provide supporting documentation up-front and the component check can be closed quickly. These checks can always be reworked if/when the source reopens or returns its own reference.

3. Supplementing criminal checks

In many countries there are significant delays on criminal checks due to sources being closed or running with a skeleton workforce. Many government departments are also prioritising criminal checks for key workers. These checks usually form the core of any screening programme where the checks are legally permissible so the lack of available sources is impactful.

There are two ways that these checks can be supplemented, however. The first is to include additional checks in your screening packages. Three options available are (a) global sanctions and enforcement; (b) conduct checks – local language media; and/or (c) adverse media checks – global media in English language. All these checks will remain up to date during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the media classed as ‘key workers’, an adverse media check may be a good place to start for an up-to-date account of your candidate’s presence in the press. Additionally, a global sanctions check can help identify if a candidate is on a number of high-profile watch lists that could be a good alternative where a criminal check is not available.  

Secondly, businesses may also want to use self-declarations where the candidate is asked to answer a set of questions around their criminal history to self-certify as an interim solution until it is possible to conduct a criminal record check.

Looking at these checks in combination, a business is able to build a package of checks to help mitigate risk and build an up to date snapshot of the candidate’s background.

4. Mitigation post hire – introducing longer probation periods for new hires

With no face-to-face contact during lockdown (or post-lockdown if the candidate is working remotely) and if probationary periods are not standard across all roles in an organisation, this may be something to consider amending. It may also be worth considering amending employment contracts to introduce a rescreening at the end of that probationary period or on a return to the office. This will allow an employer to recheck information that has already been screened and re-run checks which were previously unable to be verified at source.

Whilst a rescreening programme would usually not include employment or education checks (as this is static data), it is highly likely that for your Covid-19 rescreens that you would re-run them. You would also run (if you’d not tried already) your global criminal search and, where relevant, directorship checks and credit checks where sources may have been impacted. This will be particularly important for roles such as those in financial services or those deemed to be high risk and would hopefully set up a rescreening programme moving forward to help with the ongoing monitoring of risk within your organisation.

5. Rescreening your existing workforce

Many of your workforce may never have been screened or may have been screened some time ago when they initially joined. With entire workforces working from home, there has been an increased focus on how businesses mitigate risk, especially around data, systems, and information security. How up to date is the information you hold on your employees, however? Where you have employees that have access to confidential or sensitive information, or are considered ‘key risk positions’, should you rescreen those employees?

Whilst spending on screening that, ordinarily, you wouldn’t, may seem counter-intuitive at this time, the potential reputational and monetary savings could be huge. Rescreening packages can be tailored to keep costs down and to ensure that they are quick and efficient e.g. global sanctions and enforcement, adverse media check and local country criminal checks (where available e.g. in England the DBS are still processing all basic disclosures).  

In summary, many organisations – now more than ever – need to get new workers into their organisations quickly but also safely. The limitations around availability of sources is impacting typical screening turnaround times but, by partnering with your background screening provider, you can take steps to ensure that temporary measures such as alternative checks and changes in verification methods can enable you to hire swiftly and with confidence.

Interested in this topic? Read Five secrets to successful remote onboarding during a crisis.

Author Profile Picture
Caroline Smith

VP, Deputy General Counsel

Read more from Caroline Smith

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