The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought several industries to a halt on an unprecedented scale.

However, many businesses need to hire new team members on an urgent basis.

They need to get new workers into their workforce quickly but also safely.

The pandemic has impacted the hiring process across industry sectors regardless of where your business is located, or the nature of business operations.

During the ongoing crisis, screening new hires or existing employees for use of alcohol and drugs, criminal background, etc. or validation of their work and education credentials is more challenging than ever due to the non-availability of information or resources.

Many public-records repositories, for example, are either close or difficult to access. So, verifying criminal and civil records, especially when you need to access county court records that aren’t available electronically, can be difficult (HR Daily).

Here in this post, we will look at various employment-screening options during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Drug Tests during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Many drug-testing labs continue to provide drug testing services for employment-screening amidst the pandemic but in-person visits may be limited or unavailable in some areas.

Some applicants may also be reluctant to visit a lab due to the fear of exposure to the virus.

You need to be sensitive to such concerns but also evaluate whether the refusal to undergo an alcohol and drug test is reasonable.

When a job applicant or employee refuses a drug test, it is advisable to document the refusal.

In case your company is regulated by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), refusals on part of job applicants to undergo drug tests need to be reported to the Medical Review Officer.

The DOT had released a statement that emphasized the importance of continued drug testing during the pandemic.

You may consider sourcing drug testing kits directly from a reputed supplier and carry out mobile drug tests to address worker concerns.

Many organizations are carrying out virtual drug screening of job applicants, especially remote workers and existing employees returning to work.

Organizations looking to ramp up the business following a period of suspended or limited business activity can rely on virtual drug screening options that take less than five minutes to complete.

Oral drug tests, for instance, can be easily conducted online. Since mouth swab collection and verification of test results (reading) can be carried over video chat, you can eliminate delays that come around in scenarios where you schedule drug tests through laboratories and job applicants or employees need to travel to get tested.

In case you are planning to conduct drug screening during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic at the worksite, be sure that –

  1.           PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) are in place while conducting mouth swab or hair follicle test
  2.           Sanitation procedures are beefed up; restrooms, for instance, should be sanitized between tests if your company is conducting urine tests

    III.            High-touch points such as chairs, countertops, doorknobs, etc. are cleaned frequently

  1.           A freshly opened drug testing kit is used for each test

Depending upon whether you operate in one of the non-regulated industries, you may decide to temporarily forgo drug tests as part of employment screening or make a conditional offer of employment, contingent to the successful passing of the drug test.

However, keep in mind that state laws concerning the drug-testing of new hires or existing employees are still applicable.

Remember that approximately 70% of American workers are known to consume various drugs according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Previous studies indicate that substance abuse increases during a crisis. Many leading media outlets have in recent past reported that alcohol and marijuana sales have surged.

Since the pandemic has thrown millions of lives out of gear, it is likely that drug abuse has increased over the past few months due to stress, anxiety, and fear resulting from an environment of uncertainty. Therefore, keeping up with your organization’s drug testing policy during the pandemic is crucial.

Verification of Work and Education Credentials

Verification of employment history and education credentials is likely to be difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Managers or supervisors at business organizations and officials at schools, colleges, universities, training institutes, etc. may be currently unavailable due to closures or preoccupied with other tasks.

Small-scale institutions and business organizations in particular may be unavailable for document verification amid the pandemic; large-scale institutions often utilize automated systems for processing such verification requests.

Since work-experience certificates, diplomas, transcripts, training certificates, etc. can be falsified easily and cannot be authenticated in all cases, it is important that hiring managers do not accept any documents furnished by candidates for education and employment verification at their face value.

Until the world returns to normalcy, it may take much longer to process employment and education verification requests, even if you work with the best employment-screening service provider in your area.

Streamlining Employment-Screening Program

How job applicants are screened depends on the type of industry and the position under consideration. In industries such as transportation, healthcare, finance, and energy, employers must meet the minimum employment-screening requirements as per the applicable regulations.

Other businesses that offer services to their clients may also be contractually obliged to conduct employment-screening.

Even if your business is neither regulated nor obligated to meet contractual screening requirements, you may still need to reasonably screen all new hires in line with prevailing industry standards.

So, when you want to streamline your employment-screening program to accelerate time-to-hire during the pandemic, be sure not to truncate it. 

Try to adapt your employment-screening processes with the information and resources available in a manner that your organization fulfills all legal obligations.  

Post-Employment Checks

Since it may not be possible to complete all necessary employment-screening processes right away, your organization can reserve the right to carry out additional screening ‘after’ an individual has been on-boarded. 

This way, you can complete full screening post-hire when drug testing labs, courts, schools, and other sources are available.

Final Words

Employers and hiring managers need to ensure that employment offer letters are unambiguous about the status of employment-screening. You can ask candidates to self-disclose information about their criminal history and use of illicit drugs and alcohol ‘after’ a conditional offer but before they are inducted into the workforce.

Besides revising pre-adverse and adverse action letters to cover fresh hires, HR departments also need to develop processes in order to follow up with background-check service providers to complete any pending checks. In states such as California, employers may want to consider providing candidates with a revised disclosure form in line with the applicable laws and obtain authorization for the same.

Keep in mind that hiring workers without screening, as required by federal and state laws, can potentially open doors to negligent hiring lawsuits in the future. So, if you intend to loosen some of your employment-screening processes to hire new candidates without any delays, consider how such changes will affect your organization down the road before you make the final decision.