Employee Background Screening Trends for 2020

In 2020, employment checks are trending toward increasing complexity, added controversy about screening social media behavior, and the need to ensure corporate compliance with important new laws that vary by state and sometimes even by city. Stay abreast of these changes to ensure your Human Resources policies are current and in the know.

Legal risks and safety mandates lead the top for Human Resources departments in 2020. In a clear case of “today’s news does not tell the full story,” most of 2020’s top background screening trends have been years in the making.

If there is a theme for 2020’s HR trends, it’s “balance.” For every need to check an employee’s background, there’s an equal need to consider legal responsibilities and your company’s risk factors for discrimination when performing background checks.

Social Media Background Screening

Screening of social media posts for content that is anathema to a company’s values continues to grow in importance and controversy in 2020. CareerBuilder’s 2018 survey of over 1,000 HR directors found that two-thirds (66%) of employers used search engines to research the social media presence of job candidates.

The survey found that 36% of hiring managers had passed on a candidate because he or she posted information about drinking or using drugs. Other disqualifying social media behavior employers found included:

  • Discriminatory comments (31%)
  • Lying about qualifications (27%)
  • Bad-mouthing previous company or employees (25%)
  • Sharing confidential information (20%)

Employers Beware: Social Media Background Check Leads to Lawsuits

There’s a major catch to social screening. The top advice coming out of the HR community is to “screen wisely” to avoid risk. But according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers should never screen social media directly. Jennifer Gladstone, Employment Background Investigations, Inc. (EBI), Screening News Network Editor-in-Chief, says that employers that search candidates’ social media directly and act upon what they see are risking a potential discrimination lawsuit.

One possible resolution is to conduct social media background screening through accredited agencies. Credit reporting agencies (CRAs) can provide a summary of a candidate’s social media posts and only report what’s actionable.

At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) offer fairness protection to applicants, and 25 states also have laws regarding fair use of candidates’ social media. However, because this area of background check services is still new, the legal landscape is very unclear, so most reputable CRAs steer clear of it.

Continuous Background Checks

Don’t stop checking after employees are hired. Continuous screening of employee records can help protect businesses from liability later on. Transportation and trucking industries have always had ongoing health screening, including drug testing. Other industries, including education and health care, are beginning to screen current employees to identify areas of problem or risk, from drug use to potential legal problems.

In 2018, only 4% of HR professionals surveyed by SHRM said they conducted continuous background checks. These checks must be conducted in compliance with the FCRA and should include employee consent each time a post-hire background screening occurs.

Screening Gig Workers

Rideshare giant Uber made waves when it released its survey of 2018 records that showed over 3,000 sexual assaults, 58 deaths in car accidents, and 9 murders.

Ridesharing platforms and healthcare staffing agencies are all expected to increase prehiring and ongoing screening of gig workers in 2020. It isn’t just ridesharing businesses that are at risk.

The family members of 75-year-old Florida grandmother Evelyn Udell sued Best Buy and two delivery subcontractors for failing to conduct adequate background checks on a delivery driver who murdered Mrs. Udell while delivering a washer and dryer. The killer, who is awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges, had a minor criminal background, was driving with a suspended license, and admitted to cocaine and marijuana use.

Salary History Bans

As of January 2020, 18 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and 21 cities or counties had enacted a ban on requesting salary history as a criterion for hiring or promotion. Salary equity is part of the motivation for banning questions about salary history in background checks and interviews: The persistent pay gap between men and women and among ethnic groups can be compounded by this previously common HR practice.

Some states, including Louisiana, Missouri, and Mississippi, limit their ban to some cities or city and state offices. Other states, including New York and California, prohibit employers from asking for salary details from prospective employees and former employers.

Opposing Perspectives on Criminal Background Checks

We’ve heard a lot of publicity about “ban the box” laws prohibiting employers from asking about prior criminal convictions. These laws, including a Fair Act under consideration in Congress, have passed in a total of 33 states. Major businesses like Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Koch Industries have adopted to ban the box policies.


When hiring and running employment background checks in 2020, you will be required to balance your business risk tolerance with safety considerations and an increasingly complex legal and technological landscape.

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