Top 5 Background Screening Trends for 2020

Top 5 Background Screening Trends for 2020

By Tricia O'Connor

Topics like medical marijuana, Ban the Box, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are sure to grab a lot of headlines in 2020, but are they really the HR trends to which you need to pay attention? Not according to the data.

We surveyed hundreds of HR professionals, recruiters, and generalists who use screening following the SHRM Annual Conference about what trends you’re watching in 2020. Here’s what’s on your radars.

Continuous Monitoring

 “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
– Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986

Conducting a pre-employment background check is nearly universal when onboarding a new employee. A 2018 survey conducted by and the Professional Background Screening Association showed a whopping 95% of employers conducted one or more types of pre-hire background screening. Three years later, that number still stands. But employers’ thoughts about employee behavior has evolved. Why? You can thank Ferris Bueller.

Seize the Day

Ferris’ philosophy was to seize the day. Sometimes, the result was beautiful, often, his hijinks proved a beautiful mess. The point is, Ferris’ life moved so fast, you couldn’t predict what he would do next, or what trouble he might get in. The same is true for employers. Employers have realized screening an employee once, pre-hire, is simply a snapshot in time. It does not provide an appropriate picture of who your employee is today. That’s where continuous background screening comes in.

Ongoing employee screening upholds your company’s high-standards post-hire by providing routine background checks throughout an employee’s tenure. Ongoing monitoring ensures you are aware of any changes in your employee’s background, like new criminal records or driving violations. Some industries, like transportation, utilities, government agencies, and construction already heavily invest in continuous background checks. Others – like healthcare, education, and Information Technology / Data Security – where employees have access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII), should implement continuous background checks on a grander scale, says Thomas Eden, a leading employment attorney and partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP.

“My safety sensitive definition has expanded lately, mainly because of all of the data breeches across the country. A lot of times when you have highly confidential customer data or when you have highly confidential personnel data, you want to make sure that the momentary click of a mouse is not going to release tremendous amounts of information of a highly sensitive nature,” says Eden.

Industries on Deck

Implementing and maintaining continuous background checks will continue to grow in 2020 as employers continue demonstrating a commitment to improving workplace safety. Leading the charge will be ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft who, despite rigorous screening programs, are still seen as negligent in protecting riders from predatory drivers. Higher education and healthcare appear to be catching on, too.

“This doesn’t mean a current criminal offense, or a ding on your driving record or credit history will necessarily negatively impact an employee’s continued employability,” says Bob Capwell, Chief Knowledge Officer at EBI. “In many cases, ongoing screening provides an opportunity for dialogue between employers and employees if something does appear on a background check report.”

At EBI, we’re especially passionate about protecting vulnerable populations like the elderly and children, groups predominantly served by the healthcare and education industries. We were founded 25 years ago after a story of elder abuse prompted our CEO to take action. EBI even practices continuous monitoring on all our team members; we lead by example. In a society where life moves pretty fast, continuous screening allows you to stop and look around so you don’t miss anything.

Social Screening

72% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process.
– CareerBuilder 2018 Survey

You can tell a lot about a person from the social media content they post, share, and comment on. While there is no substitute for a criminal background check, a social media screening report is becoming a necessary component to any comprehensive hiring policy. Why? Because most of us live online, and our digital personas may be wildly different from who we appear to be. Therefore, social screening is number two on our list.

All in the Numbers

The rise in social screening in 2020 is really a matter of numbers. Big numbers. There are billions of users across the most popular social platforms – Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, and the granddaddy of them all, Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth recently hit two billion users. That’s six times the population of the United States. Sixty-eight percent of American adults use Facebook.

It makes sense, then, that your digital persona is being examined just as critically as your criminal record. And – again back to numbers – there’s cold hard data to support the push.

Reasons employers won’t hire:

  • 40% – provocative photos
  • 36% – drinking or drug use
  • 31% – discriminatory comments
  • 30% – criminal behavior

All data from CareerBuilder 2018 Survey

Simply put, the correlation between people who use social media and employers who screen social media, will continue to climb. But beware of hidden traps.

TMI – Too Much Information

Notice we said, “employers who screen social media,” and not employers who use social screening. That’s a big distinction. If you conduct DIY (Do-It-Yourself) social media screening, you can easily fall victim to privacy and discrimination concerns because of the amount of information available to you.

If you don’t access or use the information you see fairly, you could violate the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Additional protections may exist under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Stored Communications Act. Twenty-five states also have statutes banning an employer from requesting access to the social media accounts of job candidates and employees.

Jennifer Gladstone, Editor-in-Chief of EBI’s Screening News Network, has interviewed numerous experts and written thousands of stories on this topic through the years. She says industry insiders are unanimous in their recommendation that social media screening should ONLY be done by an accredited background screening company.

“One of the things that everyone I have interviewed on this has stressed is that you can’t un-ring the bell. If an HR professional logs on and looks at an applicant’s profile, you will immediately see things that could unconsciously prejudice you: their race, are they pregnant, are they celebrating a certain religious holiday,” says Gladstone. “You might not realize you are making a judgement – and neither can you prove that you didn’t! Putting the burden on your screener is the best decision. It gets you the important information while protecting you from discrimination claims.”

Employers who use social screening through an accredited Consumer Reporting Agency like EBI, will continue to grow in 2020 because the information compiled and delivered is accurate, actionable, and fully compliant. So even though you can tell a lot about a person on social media, a CRA-backed social screening report eliminates any guesswork involved in interpreting candidate’s online behavior.

Gig Workers

Freelance, contingent, extended, contract, independent contractors, subcontractors…. whatever you call them, they are a robust portion of the workforce. An Intuit study predicts roughly 7.6 million American workers will participate in the 2020 gig economy – that’s more than double the total number of freelancers five years ago. The numbers pushing our third trend show companies need to have a screening policy for these workers, even if the gig workers are not customer facing (they still represent the brand).

Get Giggy With It

Screening your gig workers comes down to trust. You have worked tirelessly to build your company, its brand, and its reputation. All it takes is one horrific story to tarnish that reputation and potentially open you up to a costly negligent hiring lawsuit. Ride-hailing services and big-box retailers alike have already fallen victim to litigation because of perceived shoddy screening practices.

Industries like hospitality, online talent marketplaces, retail, and other digitally-based service providers will continue to lead the gig economy workforce. However, some of these industries also have higher-than-average rates of extended workers with criminal pasts. For example, approximately 10% of all job candidates in hospitality have some type of criminal past.

“Employers should always understand the context of their hiring needs and the candidate pool applying for specific jobs,” says EBI’s Capwell. “Employers should always weigh the risk factors of negative or derogatory information uncovered through the screening process against any potential risks to your company, other employees and even your customers.”

OnDemand Screening

Too often, EBI hears implementing a screening policy for seasonal or gig workers is too expensive. That’s why we offer clients of all sizes – from just a few workers to thousands of employees – the same screening service and client care experience. We build out customizable packages suited to your needs. In fact, EBI is responding to this trend and developing a platform specifically for clients who need on-demand background checks. This platform will be especially helpful for businesses who rely on seasonal employees who need to be onboarded quickly such as summer camp counselors and holiday-themed businesses.

DOT Drug Testing

This next trend is huge for anyone in the transportation sector, but if you’re not involved in transportation hold tight – this trend is closely connected to two big evolutions in drug testing, which will certainly impact the greater population. More on that in a minute.

Query the FMCSA Clearinghouse

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Clearinghouse Regulation requires all FMCSA regulated employers to conduct pre-employment background checks using the current process, as well as query the Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse affects every transportation employer, holder of a Commercial Driver’s License, and “Service Agent” (for example, CTPAs, MROs, collectors, SAPs, Labs). This highly anticipated regulation modifies how employers conduct background checks on their CDL drivers for prior drug and alcohol testing violations.

Effective early January 2020, the Clearinghouse will maintain violation and return-to-duty information on drivers who fall under the Department of Transportation’s FMCSA modality. It’s imperative employers designate an accredited CRA like EBI who is familiar with the required steps.

Hair Raising Results

As the Clearinghouse commences, two types of drug tests will continue to impact the marketplace.

The first, hair testing, was supposed to be in place as a sanctioned DOT drug-testing method in 2016 through a recommendation by Congress. However, the rule has hit snag after snag during a nearly three-year delay at the federal level.

The transportation industry likes hair testing for drivers because it provides a much longer window of detection than oral fluid or urine testing. But the Department of Health and Human Services along with its sub-agency Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration has told Congress it can’t approve hair testing as a sanctioned method because of “unresolved scientific issues” with the testing. The DOT currently only sanctions urine-testing for safety-sensitive jobs.

The second, roadside drug testing, is proliferating among law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad, but still lacks consistent results and therefore isn’t holding up in court cases. A study published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis shows devices commonly used by police in Australia for traffic stops involving suspected pot smoking report false negatives up to 16% of the time.

“Now with the FMCSA Clearinghouse finally being launched, employers will have an additional resource to pull from to help reduce safety risks or even regulatory non-compliance,” says EBI’s Capwell. “This is certainly a step in the right direction to help protect consumers using our vast U.S. roadways.”

Stay Tuned

EBI is committed to bringing you timely and accurate information about these topics and other issues impacting the screening industry. Join 80,000 other hiring professionals and subscribe to the award-winning Screening News Network so you’ll always be informed. SNN is one way EBI delivers best-in-class client support.

Salary History Bans

Consider these bans the next generation of fair chance hiring laws. HR Dive reports there are currently 17 statewide bans and 20 local bans, and more states and local governments are expected to adopt salary bans in 2020. Massachusetts was the first in 2016. Salary ban laws forbid employers from asking job applicants about past pay. Some even forbid you from disciplining an employee who talks about their pay with coworkers.

The aim is to reduce pay discrimination and focus on finding candidates with the right qualifications and skill set to best perform a job. These laws predominantly help women and employees of color level the playing field.

“While salary reporting restrictions may be a little bit tricky to work with at first, it’s overall a really positive step in the right direction to reduce the wage gap,” says Curt Schwall, Vice President of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs at EBI. “Applicants and employees will be offered pay commensurate with their experience and job demands and not on the salary they have earned in the past, which may be influenced by external factors.”

Still think you can ignore this trend? You may find yourselves in high-profile company, and not for the right reasons. Google, Disney, and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team are all embroiled in gender-pay discrimination lawsuits.

As 2020 begins, Kansas City, Missouri, New York state (the Big Apple already has a ban in effect), and New Jersey are adopting salary ban laws. Toledo, Ohio will implement a citywide salary ban July 4, 2020. Colorado will follow in 2021 when it enacts the Equal Pay for Equal Work law. However, two states – Michigan and Wisconsin – have bucked the trend and banned salary bans.

How Can We Help?

Understanding the complexities of these trends as they specifically relate to background screening is challenging. That’s where EBI can help. Our team of compliance experts, customer care advocates, and unique services like our Trusted Advisor Program are always available to our clients. You are never alone when you partner with EBI.

Wishing you a successful 2020!

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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