Why Background Checks?

You’ve found a job candidate whom you think is perfect for the position you’re filling. However, hiring employees is a risky proposition. You might be bringing aboard underqualified candidates who could damage your brand’s reputation, or risk liabilities that you assume for that individual’s behavior once they’re on your payroll. Conducting employee background checks can help to minimize these risks, because they can uncover inaccuracies on candidates’ resumes, identify a history of bad behavior, or spotlight candidates who could put your company at risk for legal violations, such as disclosing a candidate’s criminal record, education, employment history, civil records, references, and more.

The benefits of conducting background checks include:

  • Increased confidence in hiring high-caliber candidates.
  • Seeing reduced employee turnover (along with related expenses).
  • Limiting exposure to claims of negligent hiring practices.

A background check is often a final step before hiring to help ensure you’re making a sound decision and protecting you (the employer) from these kinds of potential risks. For many employers, it’s a reliable way to verify claims job seekers make during the hiring process.

Human resources managers want to ensure job candidates are telling the truth about their past. Also, federal and state laws require background checks be conducted for certain jobs. And, background checks help ensure that applicants can do what they claim through employment and education verification and confirm they’re not wanted by the international authorities.

Overall, background checks help protect your company, your employees, and your clients.

Types of Background Checks
Common types of background checks include checking for criminal records, work-status validation, and reviews of social media accounts. You may also ask the candidate to take a drug test, a physical evaluation, or inquire about additional financial information (such as bankruptcies).

Criminal History Check

Arrests show on background checks, depending on the state. Some state laws prohibit employers from asking a candidate about arrest records or using them to make employment-related decisions. However, because arrests are not proof of guilt, they’re unreliable and can be considered unfair when used as a barrier to employment.

Nationwide, 35 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as “ban the box” laws so that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first on an application—without the stigma of the candidate having a conviction or arrest record.

You’ll also need to determine how thorough a background check you want conducted. Fingerprint background checks are an option; however, traditional background checks that confirm names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers, are equally as thorough.

Social Media Screenings

Social media background checks are another option. They can reveal additional information about a potential candidate, such as how they represent themselves online. A social media background check would involve reviewing a candidate’s social media profiles, and it could help to determine whether the candidate would be a good cultural fit within your organization. However, keep in mind that social media only presents one aspect of a candidate’s background and should be seen as offering some valuable insights.

Be Aware of Discrimination
Sometimes it’s within an employer’s legal limits not to hire or to fire a candidate or current employee, because of information found in their background. However, it’s illegal when the employer has different background requirements, depending on the candidate’s race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information (including family medical history), or age (40 or older). For example, an employer who rejects applicants of one ethnicity who have criminal records, but not other applicants with the same criminal history, irrespective of whether or not the information was disclosed in a background report.
Even if the employer treated the candidate equally, as everyone else, using background information can still be considered illegal discrimination. For example, employers should avoid using policies or practices that exclude people with certain criminal records if the policy or practice significantly disadvantages individuals of a particular race, national origin, or other protected characteristic, and doesn’t accurately predict who will be a responsible, reliable, or safe employee. Legally speaking, the policy or practice has what’s considered a “disparate impact,” which refers to practices in employment, etc., that adversely affect one group of people of a protected characteristic more than another, even though rules applied by employers are formally neutral and are not “job related and consistent with business necessity,” irrespective of whether or not the information was in a background report.

FRCA and EEOC

As the employer, become familiar with the laws and guidelines that dictate what you can do with the information you obtain from a background check. This is where you’ll want to rely on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), enacted in 1971, to ensure that consumer reporting agencies exercise their grave responsibilities with fairness, impartiality, and a respect for the consumer’s right to privacy. This act protects the subject of a report by putting limits on what consumer reporting agencies can reveal. You’ll also want to refer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (eeoc.gov), which states that it is unlawful for employers to implement a screening policy that disproportionately affects minorities, unless there’s a valid business reason to have that policy in place.

Then, too, it’s important that you also clearly communicate to the job candidate what a background investigation involves. Compliance with FCRA regulations requires you gain the consent of the candidate to run an employment background check. The candidate needs to know which screens will be run when being presented with and signing a clear, concise form giving authorization to the potential employer to run the background check. For example, the candidate could have a similar name or other identifying information as that of another individual. This poses a problem for the candidate. Then, too, the credit reporting bureaus could have erroneously reported the candidate’s status. The candidate’s identity could have been stolen and used by another. If information is amiss, the potential employer is required to send a pre-adverse action notification to the candidate informing him or her of the findings.

The job candidate has rights, too. The FCRA states that the candidate will have the opportunity to dispute any inaccurate information found on their records. First, as a hiring manager, you need to assure the candidate that the job offer will not be rescinded immediately, based on background findings. However, if the candidate can’t explain such findings, you, as the employer, can proceed with your decision not to hire. But before taking this action, it’s wise to seek legal counsel to protect against any exposure to litigation or violations of state or federal law.

Finally, be sure to dispose of findings and records related to the background search. According to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), as the employer, you are required to properly dispose of the findings of background reports and records to guard against unauthorized access to or use of the information.

Updates on COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

The COVID-19 outbreak was characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, due to it being a virus that rapidly spreads from person to person, is highly contagious, and, to date, no vaccine has been identified to slow it down or stop it.

While the coronavirus started in China, once it arrived in the U.S., it rapidly spread: the number of Americans coming down with it and dying has exceeded both China and Italy.

It’s no surprise that history repeats itself. In 1918, 102 years ago, an influenza pandemic hit globally, caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is no universal consensus as to the origin of that virus, it spread worldwide between 1918-1919, claiming about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population. In the U.S., it was first identified in spring 1918 in military personnel and claimed about 675,000 lives.

Today, with no vaccine yet identified to counter the coronavirus, it seems the same precautions are recommended in terms of dodging COVID-19 as the H1N1 virus of 1918: isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limiting public gatherings.

Sadly, COVID-19 has hit us hard, both economically and personally.

Can Your Business Survive COVID-19?

Deciding whether to keep your business open directly impacts your customers’ and employees’ safety. Both can become exposed to COVID-19 and transmit the virus before showing any symptoms. As a result, hard choices have to be made. Is your business non-essential, non-life-sustaining? Even “essential” businesses may need to change their operational model during the pandemic. One example is that, while customers shouldn’t patronize restaurants, food establishments can still deliver or offer take-out service.

Does Your Business Have a Crisis Plan in Place?

  • Do you have an infectious disease preparedness plan that can be implemented as it relates to COVID-19?
  • In what ways are you reducing employees’ (and customers’) exposure to the coronavirus?
  • Are you educating your employees on ways they can reduce transmission of the coronavirus?
  • What steps are you taking to maintain a healthy workplace environment through proper cleaning and sanitation, telework options, and urging workers to stay home, if sick?
  • How are you responding/handling those employees who show up virus positive in the workplace?

Look to OSHA for General Guidelines for Help with Handling COVID-19

The OSHA website (osha.com) is an excellent resource for obtaining basic rules that employers and employees can refer to help them stay safe during this pandemic. OSHA recommends that “employers of workers with potential occupational exposures to coronavirus” should:

  • Assess the hazards to which workers may be exposed.
  • Evaluate the risk-level exposure.
  • Select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure, including physical barriers to manage the spread of the virus; social distancing; and appropriate personal protective equipment, hygiene, and cleaning supplies.

It can’t be stressed enough that workplace employers and employees need to:

  • Engage in hand washing with soap and hot water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Grab a paper towel to turn off the faucet after hands are clean to avoid reinfection.
  • When soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • An alternative to disinfecting, according to the CDC, is to use household (3%) hydrogen peroxide. It deactivates the rhinovirus (the common cold). Considering the rhinovirus is more difficult to destroy, it should be able to breakdown the coronavirus in less time. Pour undiluted hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle, spray on a surface, and leave for at least one minute.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • If you need to cough, cough into your elbow.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

When an Employee or Client Tests Positive for the Coronavirus

If an employee becomes ill with COVID-19, or the health department contacts you regarding someone who visited your facility and has tested positive for the virus, additional action must to be taken immediately:

  • Dismiss your employees and have them quarantine at home. Then, deep clean and disinfect the workplace.
  • Under the confidentiality provisions of HIPAA and related laws, “only those who ‘need to know’ may know about the diagnosis.” Identify and inform employees who are likely to have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19, then notify the employee’s supervisor that an employee has tested positive. Be discrete when communicating with your team regarding the situation.
  • Ask employees who may have been in contact with the virus to self-isolate for 14 days and conduct self-monitoring for any symptoms, which means routinely taking their temperature. If the employees feel well enough, let them know they can work from home and inform them that they must not reenter the workplace any earlier than 14 days.
  • Follow any additional guidelines recommended by your local public health authorities.

Recommendations for High-Risk Industries/Workers

Select workers are likely to perform job duties that put them in medium, high, or very high occupational risk exposure. Many critical sectors rely on these workers to continue their operations. If you operate a high-risk business, you will need to take extra precautions to protect your employees, due to the accelerated risk related to your employees performing their jobs. You may need to provide specialized training, teach additional procedures, and/or instruct them on the use of additional equipment. OSHA recommends these guidelines for industries, including those who work in:

  • Healthcare
  • Emergency response/public safety
  • Post-mortem care
  • Laboratories
  • Airline operations
  • Retail operations
  • Border protection/transportation security
  • Correctional facility operations
  • Solid waste/wastewater management
  • Environmental services (e.g., janitorial)
  • In-home repair services
  • Travel to areas where the virus is spreading

Plus, in the instance where there is no specific exposure hazard to employers and workers, it’s still important to keep up-to-date regarding ever-evolving community transmission. Changes in community transmission may warrant additional precautions in some workplaces or for workers not mentioned above. Routinely check the OSHA (osha.com) and CDC (cdc.com) websites related to COVID-19 for updates.

How Important are Labor Law Posters to Your Business?

 

While you may not consider labor law posters a necessity, if you have one or more employees in your business, not including your spouse, you’re required by law to update and prominently display them. Even if you have relatives working in your business, they must have access to compliance posters. Some statutes and regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor require that notices about applicable labor laws be displayed in the workplace. Failure to post them can result in stiff penalties and possible fines up to $12,675. You can obtain these posters at no cost by visiting: Workplaceposters.org. When you go to this site, you can download free electronic copies of all mandatory posters and you can print them at your convenience.

Depending on state and federal laws, here’s a list of six federal labor law posters that you need to prominently display:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

In addition, some states may require the following posters be posted in Spanish and English. Check your state’s individual requirements:

  • Unemployment Insurance for Employees
  • Employer Vacation (exemption from unemployment)
  • Equal Pay for Equal Work Act

It’s important to not only make sure you have these posters prominently displayed, but to assure they’re up-to-date, because, while it’s more common for complaints to be submitted to the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission related to statutory wage-hour violations and discrimination in the workplace, you can also be dinged for not having current versions of these posters.

According to the 2017 Hiscox Guide to Employee Lawsuits, any worker who feels discriminated against or feels retaliated against for supporting a discriminated worker, can bring a charge against their employer. Charges can be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the equivalent state fairness agency. To determine what qualifies for a discrimination charge activity, check the federal (EEOC) and state data. An investigation of this type would involve on-site visits, often resulting in more offenses likely being identified. Failure to display workplace posters is one example, especially when they relate to state laws.

Be Proactive

The labor law poster requirement was designed to communicate to workers their rights under state and federal employment laws. Typically, most legislatures or agencies grant at least a 60-day notice once a law or revision has been passed. It’s important for employers to familiarize themselves with what’s new or has been revised
before moving forward. Or business owners can also seek professional input before implementing new policies.

No One is Exempt from Having Access to Compliance Posters

In addition to your employees, you must give access to those in your business who are federal contractors or subcontractors, because they’re on your payroll. And, if you have employees who work remotely, they need to have full access to the labor laws. The following are examples of ways you can be in compliance under these circumstances.

  • Consider an online compliance guide, one where you can view the labor laws for each state online. Granted, this doesn’t meet the poster requirement; however, it can serve as a resource for your employees who work remotely. For help obtaining an online compliance guide, call the Poster Compliance Center at 800-322-3636.
  • Another option is the Poster Compliance Center’s electronic compliance guide, commonly referred to as Ecomply. It’s a valuable resource for your employees who work remotely (from home or at tiny satellite offices). It shows your employees how they can download and print the labor law compliance notices. You can order the electronic version at https://www.postercompliance.com/labor-law-posters/ecomply.

What if my employees work where there’s no room for full-sized labor law posters? Is a full set of compliance posters still required?
When there’s physically no room for posters, try putting the labor law notices in a binder or booklet. While this doesn’t fully satisfy the poster requirement, it can still serve as a resource for your employees who are constantly mobile or rarely visit the main office. Such booklets are available through the Poster Compliance Center. And, they contain all the required state and federal labor law notices. These booklets can easily fit into a vehicle, a kiosk, or other small space. To obtain a labor law poster booklet, simply call the Poster Compliance Center at 800-322-3636.

Navigating the New 2020 W-4

We’re now 3 months into 2020. Are you still confused in terms of how to handle the 2020 W-4 form that completely revamps income tax withholding? If so, you’re not alone.

Help is on the way. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Completing the 2020 W-4 isn’t for all of your employees. Only those receiving their first paycheck in 2020. If your current employees have no changes to their existing W-4s, they don’t need to fill out the new version. However, if they want to make changes, they’ll need to complete the new 2020 form. This means that you’ll have different W-4s on file. If you find this confusing, you can ask your employees hired before 2020 to complete and submit the new form. But, be sure they understand updating the form isn’t mandatory.
  • There are no more withholding allowances. This is the biggest change to the 2020 W-4. As an employer, you may have relied on withholding allowances to calculate income tax withholdings. The more allowances your employees claimed, the less tax you withheld from their checks and vice versa. More than likely, your employees relied on these exemptions to get a sizeable refund check at tax time. However, with the new 2020 changes, employees can now claim dependents or other deductions.
  • The 2020 W-4 looks different from past forms. When filling it out, employees must now:
    – Enter personal information
    – Indicate multiple jobs or if spouse works
    – Claim dependents
    – Make other adjustments (these are optional)
    – Sign the form
  • With the previous form, an employee would enter personal information, claim allowances, and sign. They could also request an additional sum be withheld or claim exemption from their federal income tax withholding, if applicable. The new form enhances the accuracy of withholding by allowing your employees to factor in multiple jobs, or if they’re married and filing jointly, they can now factor in their spouses’ jobs. And in the instance they have children, they can factor them in and their non-children dependents. They must either claim dependents by multiplying the number of children by $2,000 and/or configure other dependents by multiplying by $500 per dependent. They can also factor in other income they may receive throughout the year. An example is if they receive interest, dividends, or retirement income. They can also use deductions they plan to use on their personal tax return only if they plan to itemize and not take the standard deduction. In addition, if your employees want to make an extra withholding, they can do that. To better prepare you for answering your new employees’ questions related to this change, visit the IRS’s website.
    • Along with the newly-revised 2020 W-4, the IRS has issued new income tax withholding tables. Refer to the Percentage Method Tables for Automated Payroll Systems and the Wage Bracket Method Tables for Manual Payroll Systems that accompany the revised forms. If you manually handle payroll, refer to the wage bracket method tables. Each contains two rates for each filing status: “Standard withholding” and “Form W-4, Step 2, Checkbox withholding.” Note, though, that before you refer to the tables, you need to find the employee’s adjusted wage amount. Once located on the table, you must then account for any tax credits claimed and/or additional tax withholding requested on Form W-4.
    • In the instance that your employees completed the pre-2020 W-4s, you’ll need to refer to the income tax withholding tables that support the 2019 and earlier versions of Form W-4, because these tables still include rates based on claimed withholding allowances.
    • In addition to all of the above, you still need to address any state changes. That is, if your state has state income taxes, then your employees will need to complete a state W-4. And, depending on your state, it may or may not have its own W-4. If it doesn’t, simply use the federal W-4 form.
    • To further complicate things, in 2020, the American Payroll Association says that states must decide whether they want to continue using the federal W-4 (and adjust their state tax system to comply with the lack of withholding allowances) or create their own version. For example, some states, such as Colorado, will continue using the federal W-4 form, while Nebraska chose to create its own W-4.

As with all changes, there’s a learning curve. If you’re still stressed or confused with these changes, consider using payroll software or a payroll service, such as ASAP Payroll, to help you navigate through the changes.