Adapting Employment Background Checks After COVID-19

Background Checks During and After COVID-19: How Should Employers Adapt?
Jared Rosenthal
Published on

Work-from-home (WFH) is here to stay. So are changed office dynamics when people return. While the COVID-19 crisis affected companies globally and caused many businesses to lay off workers, other businesses increased hiring. Industries such as healthcare added frontline workers to battle the COVID -19 pandemic. Other industries are boosting hiring as the economy reopens across the United States, such as key supply chain manufacturers, transportation providers, and food producers.

During times of change, it can be tempting for hiring companies to overlook proper background checks during the process of onboarding new staff, 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 the company or its other 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”. Nothing can be further from the truth. And while it is true that some jurisdictions may limit access to necessary background check information such as court records during periods of social distancing, there are legitimate workarounds that a reputable background check agency can help you navigate to ensure you continue to mitigate risk.

Background checks including verification of a person’s resume and references are still important, even during a crisis.

Should employers still run background checks when hiring during and after COVID-19 shutdowns?

As an employer, you will be held responsible if another worker, client, patient, or your company is harmed by an employee if it happened because you failed to do the proper employee screening. If you screened them properly, you should have known they could be a potential threat.

When overlooking the screening process and someone (or the company) is harmed, this is known as negligent hiring. Negligence could result in a claim against you the employer. To avoid this type of lawsuit, safe hiring practices with background checks are crucial to protect your company and its employees.

Did the Coronavirus pandemic change what should be included in an employment background check?

Industries that are hiring during the shutdown period of the pandemic include healthcare, transportation, and food suppliers. These workers are considered essential. The need to run background checks on these staff is just as important as it always was, to make sure they don’t have anything from their past that could potentially indicate a risk to patients or coworkers. This means that to practice safe hiring, despite the need to move quickly, employers should not take shortcuts on background checks.

Does WFH impact how far back a background check should go?

As always, there are strict rules stipulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) covering what can be included. The type of screening you choose may be dependent on your industry or the type of job for which you are hiring. Background checks can include a variety of screenings, 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 according to state background check laws. There is no indication that these limits have changed in any significant way as a result of coronavirus. Most commonly, there is a 7 year limitation. 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 to see the requirements for your state, or work with a reputable company who can ensure you stay in compliance.

If I’m hiring part-time staff, should I background check them like a full-time worker?

During the process of onboarding new staff, you may be wondering if you should background check part-time jobs the same as you would for full-time job positions. The short answer is, yes. For safe hiring practices, it’s best to background check all new-hires, no matter how many hours they are expected to work per week.

What are the unique risks when hiring remote workers?

While the COVID-19 crisis pushed many companies over the hump in terms of allowing or even embracing work-from-home, the resumption of business as usual is likely to include far more remote workers on a permanent basis. But how do you adequately screen someone if you are hiring them for the first time and have never met them in person?

Since meeting with your new worker in person isn’t an option in many cases, it is critical to run a background check that allows you to remotely identify them in a secure manner. Remember, you need to be sure you can trust remote employees with any sensitive information that they might access. After all, giving a person access to your company’s data from their home, potentially using their own computer and networking devices, is a wholly different animal from a security standpoint. Compared with providing employee access to data only while in the office, work-from-home 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 who 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?

You may be wondering, If I’m rehiring staff that were laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic, do I need to perform another background check on them? Or, does the one I did when they were first hired still count?

As a general rule, employees who are absent for more than 1 month should go through a re-hire onboarding process that is equivalent to any other new hire. Even in normal circumstances, repeating background checks periodically can illuminate illegal employee behavior and also reduce corporate risk exposure. 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 that you had them sign and see if it specifies any time limitations.

Also, ask yourself: when I bring this person back, will it create new relationships in the workplace? 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 they were first hired? It is a good idea to keep in mind that whenever roles, relationships, or structure changes in a significant manner, running another employment background check is a prudent way to manage your risk. Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic and WFH shift qualifies as broad structural changes. Therefore, employers would be wise to adapt accordingly.


“What is Negligent Hiring and Retention?” Legal Resources,
“A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” Federal Trade Commission,

Jared is the Founder of Health Street, the creator of the Who's Your Daddy DNA truck, and the host of VH1's Swab Stories.


Jared is the Founder of Health Street, the creator of the Who's Your Daddy DNA truck, and the host of VH1's Swab Stories.


Background Screening

Read Health Street's informative articles about background checks.


Background Screening

Read Health Street's informative articles about background checks.