July 17th, 2020 | Alla Schay, General Manager, Industrials, Government, and Education

The Need for Criminal History Rescreening When Bringing Back Workers

Construction worker at site

A key reason why companies focus on and invest in criminal background checks is to reduce risk. Reducing risk is critical for company culture as a value point illustrating customer commitment when sending employees out into the field, or for brand reputation, to name a few.

From checking information about a candidate’s previous employment, educational degrees obtained, potential drug use, and criminal history, among other items, it’s important to make sure that prospective employees have the backgrounds they claim in order for hiring organizations to maintain safe working environments.

The dangers of cutting corners here are evident. While most companies wouldn’t dream of bringing on a new employee who was not properly vetted, what happens after that? Although you work diligently to hire people that fit into your corporate culture and who will uphold your mission and values, some employees that you previously screened and hired may have since run into sticky issues that you as a gatekeeper of your company’s culture may want to know about. Over time, and without a rescreening strategy in place, there could be considerable risk to your organization in maintaining a safe and trusted work environment. As a pioneer in post-hire monitoring, Sterling can help you monitor and mitigate risk. Click here to learn more.

As businesses re-open, hiring ramps up, and workplace safety is prioritized, your organization should consider rescreening employees throughout their employment. Implementing a rescreening program helps to protect your employees, your customers, your partners, and your brand.

Self-Disclosure of Arrests or Convictions Possibly Required

While workers may not see a connection between, say, a bar scuffle or DUI arrest on a Saturday night and their jobs, there could be one. Some companies require employees to disclose any arrests. If company policy requires disclosure of an arrest and the employee fails to disclose an incident, it can result in discipline on the basis of a violation of the organization’s policy.

For many HR executives, the violation of trust in cases like these can be more troublesome than the alleged crime itself, often calling into question the integrity of the employee. A common belief is that if an employee is not forthcoming about an arrest or conviction, there may be other lapses in judgment, instances of less-than-full disclosure, or violations of other company policies. While an arrest shouldn’t be equated to a conviction, your organization’s self-disclosure policy should be reviewed as you consider your rescreening strategy.

The Covid-19 Lockdown

Much of the country went into lockdown from mid-March to May. This included state-based stay-at-home orders and considerable limitations under which businesses could operate. Many people passed the time at home, migrated to binge-watching TV series, and baking new creations. A popular belief was that crime was reduced considerably for that period of time.

On April 4 2020, USA Today reported a pronounced decrease in criminal incidents in the United States since March 15 for 19 of 20 jurisdictions from across the country that were studied. Bookings into each of nearly two dozen county jails monitored by the news organization fell by at least a quarter since February, according to the article entitled “Crime rates plummet amid the coronavirus pandemic, but not everyone is safer in their home.”

It is generally believed that the closure of common gathering spots like bars, clubs, and social events was a major contributor. While the reduction was significant, a considerable number of crimes still occurred on a daily basis. This is where robust criminal background checks can be invaluable as your company navigates through these uncertain times.

Furloughed and Rehired Employees

In the face of unprecedented and fast-changing economic conditions, many companies faced the daunting task of how to survive. Reduced revenue or the prospect of no income at all for an undecided amount of time were (and still are) key concerns. Many companies established temporary furloughs, wherein workers took leaves of absence but were able to remain with the company at lowered rates of pay but without breaks in employment. Use of vacation time and/or reduced hours and wages may have also been mandated. A layoff, on the other hand, meant an end to employment.

During these unprecedented times, an intention to rehire such employees when conditions improve was often communicated. Two good examples are manufacturing plants and restaurants, wherein owners or managers remained in touch with employees who were let go, hoping they could be brought back as soon as conditions warranted.

Under either scenario, a link between the employer and employee remains. As a result, were certain negative behaviors to have occurred during either a furlough or a separation with intent to rehire, considerable impact could fall on the employee, as well as to the re-hiring company, its culture, and its commitment to overall safety.

Assessing and Reducing Risk

Whether or not there is a break from continuous employment, should your HR team just hope for the best when it comes to potential criminal activity that may have taken place within your employee population, or are there better available solutions? As each day passes since your employee’s original background check was done, there could be an increased risk of troubling employee behaviors to potentially occur. Ultimately, your philosophy on background screening should guide your thinking.

Many companies reduce this risk by conducting a criminal history rescreening at a predetermined time increment, such as annually or bi-annually. There are three direct effects that could be derived from adopting this approach:

  1. Employees will know that criminal activity may eventually be reported, which can increase the chance of self-disclosure to enable appropriate counseling or training
  2. A “Hawthorne effect” may occur, wherein one sees altered behaviors of an individual who is aware of being observed

Rescreening provides you the ability to receive regular, actionable insights into your employee base over time, as new circumstances arise. This type of screening offers timely and ongoing protection against workplace violence, criminal behavior, fraud, and theft. You can then take actionable steps to ensure safety in your organization.

A recent LinkedIn poll by Sterling revealed that 55% of respondents, across a wide range of industries, either will rescreen employees who were furloughed or laid off, or are considering this approach. A recommended industry best practice is to rescreen employees for criminal behavior every 12 to 24 months. Your company’s risk tolerance will help guide a decision on the frequency of rescreening.

Returning to Work

During the Covid-19 crisis, businesses have emphasized the safety and health of employees. As you ramp up hiring, this focus on safety should carry through your new hiring process – ultimately creating a workplace built on a foundation of trust and safety.

We have already seen many instances where furloughed employees are restored to their previous status or where individuals who were let go have then been rehired. There is a hope this trend will continue over the coming months. As companies bring back employees, they should consider the risks associated both with the time that has lapsed since the last criminal background check and the length of the separation.

While companies will ultimately determine what works best for them, instances where more than one year has passed since the last check or a separation from full employment has exceeded 90 days represents considerable risk. A defined policy for criminal re-screenings can help reduce uncertainty and support a safety-focused culture, to protect employees, customers, and your company’s hard-earned reputation. To learn more about how Sterling can help your company mitigate this risk, click here.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.