August 18th, 2022 | Sterling

Should Employers Relax Background Checks to Overcome Hiring Challenges?

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) recently published an article exploring a new trend taking place among short-staffed businesses navigating the unprecedented challenges of today’s job market: cutting back on background check requirements.

Certainly, many employers face significant difficulties when trying to hire new talent. As the author points out, in the past few years, businesses have encountered one unforeseeable challenge after the next. For starters, they needed to completely reframe their operations to comply with mandated lockdowns, accommodate work-from-home arrangements, and implement adequate safety precautions to protect workers in the midst of a global pandemic. And as if operating a business weren’t challenging enough given those circumstances, tens of millions of Americans quit their jobs throughout 2021 in what has since been dubbed “The Great Resignation.”

Today, businesses in all industries are still feeling the pinch, with US employers witnessing as many as 11 million job openings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while — at least on the surface — loosening background check requirements might seem like an effective way to expedite the hiring process, or even adapt to evolving laws and regulations, we believe employers can meet their hiring goals and help mitigate risk and see longer-term success by optimizing efficiency and safety.

To explore this challenge in more depth, let’s take a closer look at a couple of the issues raised in the article, and also examine how modernized tools and customized background checks can provide a safer solution.

Speed and Safety Are Prime Workplace Considerations

There’s no argument from HR teams that, in today’s environment, moving the hiring process along as efficiently as possible is an absolute must. The fact is that, in any hyper-competitive job market, most candidates are being recruited for multiple jobs at once, making it critical for HR teams to streamline the hiring process and help secure these candidates…before another company secures them first. 

Erica Cruz, the HR director for Miami-based restaurant and nightlife conglomerate, Groot Hospitality, revealed to SHRM just how quickly new hiring opportunities can slip away in light of worker shortages and increased competition. “We hear all the time from our managers, specifically in the back of the house, about cooks who will schedule interviews — let’s say about 10 in a day,” said Cruz, “[and] out of the 10, maybe one shows up.”

Cruz went on to admit that, sadly, this has become the standard for Groot Hospitality, which is one reason the company recently decided to require only one professional reference from candidates rather than the usual two. Of course, Groot isn’t the only business now reconsidering the vetting process, and according to another SHRM contributor in the recruitment industry, eliminating certain requirements is becoming somewhat of a trend: “[Employers] are systematically looking at where they can move faster and take on a little bit more risk — and where they can’t.”

Reflecting on the above statement, the one response that comes to mind is something that Sterling knows from direct experience: workplace safety is the cornerstone of a strong culture. Now more than ever, candidates and employees need to feel that their employer is actively taking measures to help keep them safe and secure. Background screening, when approached carefully and with consideration, is an ideal way to help build a safe and trusted workforce. Candidates echoed this sentiment in “Hiring Reimagined,” our 2022 survey of the current state of hiring, with 82% of respondents naming “Safety in the Workplace (colleagues/people)” as being an important factor when deciding where to work, or in which field.

Likewise, employers can also achieve speed in the hiring process without having to take on additional or unnecessary risks. When organizations carefully vet their candidates in this way, they gain the confidence to take the next step with new talent in the hiring process. It’s about leveraging modern technology to strike the right balance between safety and efficiency, without requiring any potentially-costly compromises. One of Sterling’s unique propositions in the background screening space is our dual focus on streamlining the hiring process and optimizing the candidate experience. In fact, 90% of Sterling’s US criminal screens are automated, driving faster turnaround times without compromising on quality, accuracy, or regulatory compliance: 

  • >60% turnaround time in first 15 minutes
  • >70% turnaround time in the first hour
  • >90% turnaround time in the first day 

For a brief example, a multitude of restrictions and operational delays made it incredibly difficult for legacy background check providers to fulfill background screens during the pandemic. However, even during this difficult time, Sterling was able to successfully fulfill up to 98% of background checks from our clients, with the overwhelming majority of our criminal history screenings being closed in less than 24 hours.

Therefore, employers who accept the burden of workplace safety risks purely to increase hiring efficiency could largely just have a misconception. Clearly, speed and safety can co-exist in a background screening program and in the hiring process overall, and they are becoming increasingly compatible as technology continues to advance.

Ban the Box and Fair-Hiring Laws

In addition to attempting to remain competitive in a tightening job market, many businesses are also struggling to adapt to evolving laws and regulations regarding fair hiring practices. As detailed in a recent Sterling compliance blog post, more states and cities across the country are rapidly adopting “ban the box” laws, which aim to expand employment opportunities for candidates with criminal histories.

According to SHRM, some version of “ban the box” – or similar fair-hiring laws – have been adopted in 37 states and over 150 cities and counties in the US. To be clear, in most cases, the laws merely prohibit employers from inquiring about criminal histories as part of the initial application process. Moreover, rather than necessarily presenting a political or ideological issue, employment law and labor attorney Katelynn Gray points out in the above SHRM article how many employers simply don’t know how to proceed from a practical and compliance standpoint: “The ‘ban the box’ laws just keep growing and becoming more restrictive on employers,” said Gray. “I’ve had clients who have just chosen to forgo the background check process altogether because it’s just fraught with hurdles.”

Sterling’s Associate General Counsel, Corporate Ethics and Compliance, Angela Preston, offers this key insight in “Hiring Reimagined“: “As the global workforce continues to change and evolve, hiring practices and screening processes need to adapt as well.” In fact, our report’s survey found that 73% of our HR respondents “…anticipate it will become increasingly challenging to keep up with changes in hiring regulations and practices over the next two years.”

Beyond fair-hiring regulations, some companies have made independent decisions to loosen certain requirements for candidates. CVS, for example, has lifted nearly all educational prerequisites for entry-level roles, opting to rely primarily on the method of a “Virtual Job Tryout” to determine if a candidate is a right fit for a position. Others, like beauty products retailer The Body Shop, have taken a more controversial approach, hiring mostly on a “first-come, first-served” basis and “no background checks whatsoever,” according to SHRM.

As cut-and-dry as this issue may seem to employers seeking to remove these hiring requirements, we have seen how businesses are leveraging modern background check and candidate experience tools to help meet compliance needs, hire at volume, and promote and maintain safety in the workplace. Background screening can now be customized to support any and all fair-hiring policies and practices required. At Sterling, for example, we enable our clients to specify and set role-based screening requirements. For example, an employer may require a candidate without criminal history for a job role working with children, or for a high-profile role; but this same employer might also deem that it’s perfectly acceptable to hire candidates with criminal history for other roles. In this way, the hiring process can be fine-tuned by implementing a modern screening program to ensure safety while also adopting progressive fair-hiring policies.

Many employers incorrectly view background screening as serving a singular purpose: scanning police and court records for the existence of criminal history. In reality, however, modern technology and automation have empowered companies like Sterling to create a screening service that can also make the hiring process as efficient as possible.

Angela Preston adds, “Sterling’s criminal background checks are fast and efficient, and while we can also provide legal and compliance guidance regarding evolving regulations, we certainly don’t advise employers’ individual hiring decisions. After all, employers often know better than anyone else how trust and safety should be considered in the context of their workplace, and we individually customize all of our services to align with this in mind.”

Between tools like Sterling’s Candidate Hub, which helps keep candidates engaged throughout the hiring process, and continuous workforce monitoring for new and existing employees in the workplace, the benefits of modern screening technology extend far beyond what most have come to expect from other providers. Whether employers face an issue of efficiency or compliance, truly modernized screening technology, when leveraged to its full potential, should not be considered the problem, but the solution. Especially in light of today’s hiring challenges, it’s important to utilize background screening as a value-added component of efficient and fair-hiring processes in order to help maintain a culture built around authenticity, trust, and safety. Learn more about Sterling’s background screening and identity services designed to help build a workplace culture of trust and safety while streamlining the hiring process.

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.