What You Need to Know About Background Checks for Remote Workers

During times of change, it can be tempting to overlook proper background checks, especially when hiring temporary or part-time workers. But it’s your responsibility as an employer to make sure that new hires will not pose a threat to your company and its employees.

If you cannot meet potential new-hires for face-to-face interviews, you might be tempted to think, “out of sight, out of mind.” Except, nothing can be further from the truth. 

As an employer, you will be held responsible if a worker, client, patient, or your company is harmed by an employee as a result of your failure to do proper employee screening. This is known as negligent hiring. And while it is true that some jurisdictions right now may limit access to necessary background-check information, here’s what you should still nonetheless be asking yourself as you manage background checks at your organization:

Does remote work impact the nature of background checks?

The biggest challenge about running background checks on people who are remote is that, well, they are remote! In normal times, you might sit across the desk from a new hire to have them sign a waiver to allow you to run their background check. But if that individual is working remotely, issues creep up quickly, such as: How do I know who is actually signing the waiver? How do I remotely ensure that the person I am hiring is truly that person?

To solve concerns of remote identification, look to background-check services that include remote identity verification using e-Sign waivers. For example, such an approach can require candidates to scan their government-issued IDs and to snap a selfie. By extracting data from the barcode on the ID rather than allowing a person to fill it in by hand, you can feel more secure when working with remote new hires. Likewise, you can compare a selfie to a driver’s license, much like a TSA agent who checks your ID at the airport. 

Additionally, as always, there are strict rules stipulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) covering what a background check can include. The type of screening you choose may depend on your industry or the type of job for which you are hiring. Background checks can include a variety of information, including criminal history, motor-vehicle records, employment-history verification, reference checks, and license verification.

Rules that restrict how far back an employer can look vary by state; however, there is no indication that these limits have changed in any significant way as a result of coronavirus. Most commonly, there is a seven-year limitation, though there are some states with laws that regulate how far back a criminal background check can go based on the salary of the position. Always check the requirements for your state to ensure that you stay compliant.

If I’m hiring part-time staff, should I check someone’s background as if the person were a full-time worker?

The short answer is yes. For safe hiring practices, it’s best to check the backgrounds of all new hires, regardless of how many hours they will work.

Are there unique risks when hiring remote workers?

Yes, which is why it’s critical to run background checks that allow you to remotely identify people in a secure manner.

Giving a person access to your company’s data from their home, potentially using their own computer and networking devices, is now a wholly different animal from a security standpoint. Compared to providing employee access to data only while in the office, remote work presents many more opportunities for your system to get breached. You also need to think about others who may be in the worker’s home; they may try to log in or even eavesdrop on sensitive company or client data.

Do I need to repeat a background check when it’s time to recall employees?

As a general rule, employees who are absent for more than one month should go through a rehire process equivalent to that of a new hire. Even in normal circumstances, repeating background checks periodically can illuminate illegal employee behavior and also reduce risk. Furthermore, if you obtained proper consent when you initially hired the person, that waiver may still be valid to run another criminal background screening. To be safe, go back and read the waiver to review potential time limitations.

Additionally, it’s important to ask: Is the worker returning to the same job, salary, and responsibilities? Or has the work environment significantly changed since the lockdown began, or even since the individual was first hired? Whenever roles, relationships, or structures change significantly, running another background check is a prudent way to manage risk. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 and the shift to remote work qualify as such broad structural changes. Therefore, you would be wise to adapt accordingly.

Jared Rosenthal is the Founder & CEO of Health Street, a software solution that helps over 20,000 SMBs set up drug tests and occupational health services at over 10,000 clinics nationwide.

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