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How to Maintain Hiring and Background Checks Amid COVID-19

Lou Paglia
Lou Paglia

Urgently needing to hire as the pandemic rages? Here are steps to strengthen your employee screening process even during a crisis.

Background checks are an integral part of a company's hiring strategy – in normal times. During these unprecedented circumstances created by COVID-19, numerous court closures are creating challenges in accessing criminal records. This is putting many companies in an untenable position where hiring managers think they must sacrifice safety for speed by not doing background checks (or accepting substandard screenings). But that does not have to be the case. If you're hiring right now, you can take tangible steps for fast and safe hiring – with thorough background checks. 

As the U.S. faces the COVID-19 crisis, certain roles are critical across the country.

  • Hospital and healthcare companies need more staff to help sick people.
  • Online retailers need more distribution workers to ensure people can safely get supplies they need in their homes.
  • The gig economy needs more people, both to meet the demand from consumers under lockdown who still need services and to provide sources of income for people who are out of work.
  • Staffing firms need to onboard people at unprecedented rates to help all of these industries.

But due to social distancing, shelter-at-home orders and widespread court closures, many companies operating in these areas are unable to perform the most basic criminal checks on prospective employees. HR Dive covered this issue on April 9, highlighting how the current state of affairs is causing critical delays in hiring for roles that are sorely needed amid the current crisis. These bottlenecks significantly impact people who are out of work as well as the broader economy.

Currently, there is even discussion in the industry about "balanced risk" and recommendations to lean more heavily on a national criminal background check, rather than a state- or jurisdiction-based model, which ultimately offers a more thorough vetting process. But the reality is that companies don't need to make a trade-off between fast and safe hiring, even in this unprecedented environment. 

So, when it comes to hiring and screening, what steps can employers – particularly those having to urgently hire – take now? These are the steps Sterling recommends to help businesses and hiring managers arm themselves with vital knowledge and resources during this critical time. 

1. Stay abreast of the situation.

In the current crisis, there are many online resources for up-to-date news, developments, and best practices in screening, hiring, safety guidelines, court closures, and regulatory issues. In addition to business.com's HR portal and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), these U.S. government agencies are valuable sources of information:

Take advantage of these resources, particularly those relevant to your industry, and you will be well equipped with the knowledge to make smart, informed hiring decisions.

2. Understand the role and impact of background screening.

What is included in an employee background check? What is not? How long should a background check take? How and to what extent are screening procedures being impacted by the pandemic? Are your provider's practices fully compliant with legal rules and regulations? Are there any particular considerations and best practices that are specific to your industry? These are all vital questions that your screening provider can answer. Just as HR-related knowledge about the COVID-19 situation is helpful, a deeper understanding of the background screening process will be profoundly beneficial when it comes to making important hiring decisions for critical roles. [For more information on what background screening providers do, see business.com's guide to the best background check companies.]  

3. Take advantage of flexible, no-commitment contracts.

Simply put, businesses should not have to choose between fast hiring and thorough background checks that provide the safe company environments they have come to rely on. In response to the current circumstances, some screening providers are offering businesses that need to hire quickly the ability to enter into flexible, no-commitment contracts so they can adjust their screening programs accordingly and onboard workers swiftly during the COVID-19 crisis. Do your research, and, if you are in need of a screening partner, take advantage of any currently available short-term arrangements that may be more convenient and cost-effective than standard, longer-term contracts. 

4. Understand the risks of a bad hire.

Some companies are deciding for some workers to start their job before their background checks are fully processed. While it is understandable that there is a critical need for workers in certain frontline roles, it is also important to recognize that the cost of a bad hire can be devastating – to your company, employees, customers and larger community. This is particularly relevant for roles that work directly with the general public and vulnerable populations. All of these considerations underscore the need for companies to adopt quick, thorough background checks, especially during a crisis and under challenging circumstances.  

5. Connect and collaborate.

When crisis and uncertainty strike, there is no better time to look beyond yourself, your company and your commonly used resources. If you need help, seek it. You can do this by reaching out to partners in your industry – fellow businesses, industry associations, government leaders, vendors – for ways to collaborate, deepen your knowledge and share best practices. Building and strengthening your network keeps you aware of evolving best practices, both in the short term and the long term.

6. Hire and onboard remotely where possible.

While social distancing guidelines are still in place, hiring, onboarding, and working remotely helps protect the health and safety of your employees and candidates. Further, think about all the ways you can leverage technology when it comes to hiring and maximizing workflow. Is your IT infrastructure up to date? Have you implemented policies that allow employees to work effectively from home? Are you holding digital town halls that communicate important updates to your employees? These are all important questions in this era of social distancing and beyond, as companies enter a new normal and the need to scale a remote workforce inevitably broadens beyond essential frontline roles. 

While these uncertain times present challenges, the current hiring and screening landscape also presents great opportunity for employers to learn, take advantage of previously untapped resources, adapt, and ultimately innovate, all while prioritizing both hiring speed and safety. Further, looking beyond the immediate crisis into the months ahead, a new set of unprecedented circumstances – shaped by workers returning from remote work and furlough, and likely more companies needing to urgently hire – will inevitably have a widespread impact on employers. How do you effectively ramp up your recruiting, screening and onboarding efforts to meet this incoming demand? And how do you do this while prioritizing speed and thorough background checks?

As circumstances evolve, the overarching principle will remain: With smart, informed hiring and background screening policies, you can hire quickly while also providing a foundation of trust and safety for your employees and customers – in the midst of urgent hiring through this crisis, as well as through the transition to a new normal. By keeping up to date on relevant news and developments, better understanding the role of screening, and leveraging opportunities available to your company, your business's hiring process will be positioned to succeed in the short term and well beyond. 

Lou Paglia
Lou Paglia,
business.com Writer
See Lou Paglia's Profile
Lou Paglia is President of Sterling, and initially joined in October 2015 as Chief Innovation Officer. A product, operations and general management executive with significant experience in web, data and technology, prior to Sterling, Lou served as Vice President of Emerging Business at Infogroup. He has held executive roles at multinational companies including MTV Networks and the Factiva division of Dow Jones and Company, as well as at start-ups like Jirafe, SnagAJob.com and About.com. Lou holds an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management, and Bachelor of Business Administration in Computer Information Systems from James Madison University.