COVID-19: The evolution of background screening

COVID-19 has ushered in changes in just about every area of business. In the last few months businesses have battled with the challenge of not only ensuring the safety of their own staff in the work environment, but also safeguarding corporate data in newly created remote working environments. In these challenging times, the role of supporting and creating great teams falls to HR in a whole new way. As corporate cultures have changed almost overnight with the traditional working environment shifting dramatically.

And background screening has been no exception to this evolution. In the last few months, as many industries have been forced to close up shop or work completely remotely, this has posed unique questions for hiring teams that still need to conduct robust and compliant background screening in order to secure the best talent.

With in-person verification difficult as a result of lockdown, many companies have had to be innovative in their approaches to prevent falling foul of the rules.

Going forward, while restrictions are easing across the world, and some sectors are beginning to hire again as we emerge from the crisis, the fact that social distancing is set to remain in place means that background checks must continue to evolve. Here’s what HR teams need to know.

Adapting and overcoming challenges

As COVID-19 started its rapid spread across the globe, the biggest challenge when it came to screening staff was successfully continuing checks as sources were restricted or closed, meaning in-person verification wasn’t possible in some instances. However, the level of flexibility around how these checks were conducted has increased to some degree as a result of the pandemic.

Initially we saw the greatest challenges in Europe in those countries hardest hit by the virus (Spain, France, Germany and Italy, in particular), but it was only a matter of days before rules were changed and access to the necessary sources, such as courts and other government buildings, was established.

The pressures imposed by the virus has meant that a swift evolution of the way checks were carried out was needed – and we have definitely seen an uptick in demand for our ‘ID as a service’ product, which allows candidates to take a ‘selfie’ that is cross referenced with their documents using face recognition technology, in lieu of an in-person verification.

The future?

As we go forward, we are already seeing some sources of checks re-opening and original processes being put back into place, which will hopefully continue over the coming weeks, albeit at different rates across the globe.

However, with social distancing set to remain for some time, there are still concerns from HR teams around background checks and the on-boarding process as handling this completely remotely has certainly been a challenge for some. While most people were up to speed with virtual  recruitment prior to the pandemic, learning how to successfully on-board virtually is a challenge that HR will need to rise to. We have had our own experiences with this as a business – we opened our new European office in Wroclaw, Poland, on the first day of the country’s lockdown. This meant that our team essentially turned up to collect their kit and went straight back home to work remotely, and have done so very successfully since.

It’s important to add that the on-going uncertainty means that any programs businesses develop remain agile. No-one knows what will happen in the future, so flexibility will be crucial to ensuring organisations can react quickly to any change.

What does HR need to consider?

So, in order to carry on successfully screening workers whilst social distancing and remote working are so prevalent, what does HR need to consider?

It’s important to remember this is not a temporary issue and will still be relevant as the pandemic passes – with remote working set to be the new normal for many. In fact, prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, research from CV-Library revealed that the number of remote workers in the UK had more than doubled in the last four years.

When it comes to background checks, compliance is king, and all steps must be taken to ensure your company acts within the law. The key to creating a resilient process that successfully screens remote workers is to have a clear-cut screening policy. This should outline objectives, processes, and types of background checks for each position, along with details stipulating any difference between remote and onsite worker requirements.

This plan should also clearly outline any criminal record checks which may be needed, guidance on meeting obligations regarding social media screening, and be fully GDPR compliant. The absence of a written policy may lead to inconsistent decision making and put you at risk of non-compliance.


It’s also vital that there’s a consistent approach across the workforce. In the past, many remote workers have been contractors – and despite being offsite for a significant proportion of their work, have access to the same company data as any other worker.

However, now entire workforces may be at home for the immediate future at least, this is even more important. Therefore, remote workers need to be treated in the exact same fashion as you would treat any other employee. Any gaps in the screening process could put your organisation at significant risk, so consistency and absolute transparency are critical.


Finally, a skilled use of technology will be essential for HR teams if they are to successfully screen and on-board in the current climate. In order to conduct Right to Work checks while maintaining social distancing, facial recognition technology can be utilised to bypass in-person verification. Also, documents and contracts can be sent and signed online, and successful onboarding will require a concerted use of technologies such as Zoom or MS Teams.

The new normal

Ultimately, the world has been through a lot in the last few months. It’s clear that many companies and governments have adapted a great deal in this time, and so has the background screening industry. There will be a lot for HR to consider as the situation continues to develop in a post-lockdown hiring market. Having a clear-cut background screening policy, ensuring consistency, building resiliency and agility into your program, and weaving this into a dedicated application of new technologies will allow HR to continue building great corporate cultures that rest upon foundations of trust and safety.

Author: Editorial Team

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