Embracing Radical Workplace Changes Requires New Thinking

Max Wesman, Chief Operating Officer, GoodHireMax Wesman, Chief Operating Officer
“Return to work” and “the new normal,” two phrases which just a few months ago were novelty expressions, have now become a standard part of business lexicon as we emerge from pandemic lockdowns. Multiple articles appear daily speculating about how the workplace of the future will change.

The fact is, however, that none of us know with certainty what the workplace of the future will look like. Yet, one thing is for certain: we do know that new opportunities created by the hiring of remote workers is creating concurrent new challenges in figuring out who to employ, and how.

As the founder of a company that conducts employment background checks for a wide variety of clients, it’s an issue that’s of particular concern to us. In our remote work settings, trust has never been as important as it is now. Whether you conduct a background check on your own, or hire a company such as ours, there are a variety of new variables employers must consider when hiring workers who will work remotely and, perhaps, whom you’ll never actually meet in person.

Today, HR managers are understanding that to hire the right people in this virtual environment requires a more rounded, qualitative understanding of the individual, in addition to a factual background check that may uncover relevant criminal convictions; provide insight into financial management; or confirm someone held the job they listed on their resume.

Not everyone is suited to work remotely

In reality, working from home requires different skills, and perhaps a different mindset, than for those who work full-time in an office. Being isolated most of the day, meeting colleagues solely via video chat, having no chance to socialize after work or to meet serendipitously while walking down the hallway can be unique challenges.

Consider finding new ways to assess remote work candidates for the hard and soft skills needed to fill these types of roles. Such skills include individual discipline and self-motivation, digital communication style, tech know-how, and self-reliance.

Aptitude tests are becoming more popular for employers as they look for proof that remote work is something that a new hire can successfully carry out over an indefinite period. At GoodHire, we’ve begun piloting the use of aptitude tests for hiring our own remote employees.

Know that background checks for remote workers will vary by jurisdiction

When employees all lived and worked in a particular location, background checks only needed to take into account the screening laws of that jurisdiction, as well as federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requirements. But now that workers can work anywhere in the U.S., or even outside of it, employers must be aware of the differing rules that may make certain screens and records out of bounds.

It’s important to understand which criminal records are legally reportable in the jurisdiction in which the candidate lives. If it’s a more restrictive state or local jurisdiction, then it’s important for the employer to abide by the rules in the jurisdiction in which the candidate resides.
In most states, convictions may be reported indefinitely; however, depending on the state where the candidate lives or works, they may be restricted to five or seven years.

In California, neither non-convictions for crimes nor previous salaries may be considered by potential employers.

Under Georgia’s First Offender Act, certain crimes may be expunged from one’s record if the individual has never been convicted of a felony and meets other sentencing conditions.

Local marijuana laws may also impact your background check process and policy. Should marijuana use be a strike against candidates if recreational marijuana is legal where one candidate lives, but illegal for a candidate in another state? While an employer may be able to screen for marijuana in the state in which they operate, it may be legal where the candidate lives. In other jurisdictions, such as New York City, screening employees for marijuana use is illegal, with certain exceptions.

Finally, when it comes to turnaround times, different states may also take different amounts of time to respond to records requests. It’s important for employers to be aware of these differences so that remote candidates are not penalized for living in a state or county where access to records is more difficult compared to another candidate who’s applying for the same job but lives in a county where records are digitized and easily accessible.

Determine which screening results are most valuable

Background checks uncover as much or as little additional insight about potential new hires as you want or need to know. Evaluating which screening results are relevant in a remote work setting have emerged as a new consideration.

Adding an identity verification check, for example, adds an extra layer of security to the process. You can’t meet your candidate in person—how can you be sure they are who they say they are?

And when it comes to criminal history, which criminal convictions are most relevant to your remote work positions? Misdemeanors, convictions for trespassing, theft, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct may appear. Are those records disqualifying for the role? What about vehicular violations and DUIs? Know what you're looking for, then adjust your screens accordingly, and apply them consistently.

Two screens that provide additional value for remote positions are professional reference checks and employment verifications. Misrepresentation of work history is, unfortunately, quite common, and may be easier for a remote worker to conceal. Conducting these types of checks help you gather a realistic assessment of your candidate’s character, skills, and work experience.

Recognize the limits of AI for remote hiring decisions

Finally, while AI is proving its usefulness in many fields that require complex decision making, we have found it of limited use when preparing a report on a candidate. AI works best as a supplemental tool when compiling background information, helping us ensure that we’re investigating the right person, rather than another individual who happens to have the same name.

The FTC recently warned that algorithmic hiring decisions could result in “deception, discrimination – and an FTC law enforcement action.” If you’re making hiring decisions with the use of automated tools or AI, be mindful not to unintentionally discriminate against candidates in protected classes, and discuss your practice with legal counsel to make sure you’re using those tools responsibly, and in a way that mitigates your own risk of a discrimination suit.

Ultimately, it’s up to an employer, not a software program or a background check company, to make the final decision on who to hire. And at organizations where a mix of remote and in-person workers is becoming the new normal, a wider range of factors than ever before must be available to make the most informed decisions.