AccuSource Blog

Navigating Employment Background Screening in the Wake of COVID-19 Shutdowns and Restrictions


For many of us, March 13, 2020 will become one of those pivotal dates in history we will always remember. While most of us were aware of the COVID-19 (novel Coronavirus) outbreak in China and other parts of Southeast Asia and the fact cases were beginning to emerge in major metropolitan areas in the United States, it likely was not until President Trump signed the declaration of National Emergency that we truly began to understand the impact of this national health emergency on both our personal and professional lives. Much like many other transformational dates in history, we likely woke up expecting a day of business as usual and went to bed worrying what the next day would bring, wondering if life would ever be the same again.

Just three short weeks later, we are all trying to find our way and adapt to the sheer magnitude of changes and adjustments in business operations we have learned to adopt to comply with Safer at Home orders and ensure Social Distancing. For human resources professionals, these changes have been especially impactful, particularly as they work to ensure key functions including recruiting and new employee onboarding continue to function and progress in an environment where resources have been significantly impacted. For many organizations, employment background screening is an important step in the onboarding process. It aids in validating candidates possess the skills and experience necessary to successfully support the roles they fulfill in the organization. Background screening also helps organizations mitigate risk by providing insight to candidates with criminal histories that may pose danger to their staff or clientele. Like many other essential business activities, employment background screening continues to be a vital, necessary function in the onboarding process and with some flexibility and adaptation, can continue to support hiring decision-making needs amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

First, there is some good news. Much of the data utilized in employment screening is accessed through online means, including criminal records.  Even though many county courthouses across the United States have closed their doors temporarily to the public and/or have restricted operations to only essential functions, numerous courts, especially those in major metropolitan areas, afford access to court records through electronic connections. Consumer reporting agencies, like AccuSource, with online connections to these courts can continue to facilitate records research, regardless of whether the court is closed to public access. Additionally, many other courts without online records access capabilities are still affording some access to court clerks for clerk-assisted research or are providing researchers with access to data terminals to facilitate research. Amid COVID-19 Social Distancing restrictions, there have been some delays related to access to county court records. However, the limitations experienced by AccuSource have been marginal to date. Additionally, many other sources of criminal records including direct access to federal criminal records, sex offender registries, nationwide criminal databases, most department of motor vehicle records and many statewide records repositories have always afforded electronic access and continue to function as normal despite COVID-19-related closures.

Many educational institutions and employers have been forced to temporarily shut down amidst COVID-19 restrictions. However, there has been a growing trend over the past several years for employers and educational institutions to outsource housing of their employment and education records to data management providers. Large numbers of both education and employment histories can be accessed through these resources regardless of whether the institution or employer is operational. Additionally, many institutions closed to public, student, and faculty access are maintaining administrative functions at some level which provides further resources for facilitating verification of education history. Prospective employers also have the option to utilize professional references, w-2 statements, and other resource documents to aid in verifying employment history when direct employer verification is not feasible due to COVID-19 closures.

While the impact on employment background screening has been limited due to technology-driven resources, there will be circumstances where a search or verification may be delayed due to COVID-19 closures. Many human resource professionals and employers are faced with questions regarding options for managing incomplete employment background results and potentially, moving forward in the onboarding process with a screen still in progress. While best practice continues to dictate the employment background screen should be finalized prior to clearing a candidate for hire, waiting on a final outcome amidst the uncertainty of when courts, schools, and businesses will re-open may not be a viable option, especially if the employer is classified as an essential business service.

Employers should consult their legal counsel prior to changing employment screening processes to afford an option to onboard prior to completing their employment screening process as changes may result in new legal and compliance considerations. For example, if a criminal record is found once a court re-opens and the search is completed, and the applicant is now an employee, their legal rights will likely have changed. Therefore, consent and adverse action forms will likely need to address this change in status. Concerns may also arise relating to equal treatment and impact on protected classes. Employers should evaluate how they will handle situations where adverse information is revealed in the employment background screen post-hire before initiating changes in their screening processes to help avoid legal issues.


AccuSource is committed to assisting employers and human resource professionals during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Please contact us at 888.649.6272 or with any questions. Our team is here for you.

Cynthia Woods

Cynthia Woods

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